As they say, the only constant in life is change. “They” is the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus (yes, we Googled it), who would have made a great addition to the Navigate team. He pretty much nailed it when it comes to describing the situation so many of our clients find themselves in today. Change is all around us, and in most cases, it’s essential to embrace it in order to take the next step forward. It’s how we collectively get more efficient, uncover new opportunities, and shed the legacy tools and thinking that hold us back.
Since Heraclitus wasn’t available, we found our own modern-day bastion of change in the form of Navigate’s newest partner Kim Huggins. We sat down with her to get her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of large-scale organizational change, and how today’s leaders are using it to fuel their organizations.
What’s different about “change” today?
Change is starting to be embraced by organizations in a more holistic way. The days of thinking about it as a one-off project or something that happens in one silo of the business are fading. We have better insights and appreciation of how it reverberates in a good way, both internally and externally, across the business, operations and the customer experience.
Leaders should keep an eye on this dynamic to help teams and individuals zoom in to get their projects done, but then zoom back out to understand how their efforts impact the organization as a whole.
Over the past two years or so there’s been a shift and companies are realizing “Hey, we need to get serious about this because we’re spending a lot of time, money and resources on these big business decisions, but we’re not getting the results that we want. We need to do something different.” One of our most important tasks as consultants is to help companies understand what they can do to ensure better outcomes.
When it comes to change, most people go through the process and think, “whew, I’m glad that’s over.” Why is this the wrong way to think about change, and what other challenges are you seeing?
The bad news for people with that kind of mindset is that change is constant (Editor’s note: Heraclitus was right!). Thinking you’ve reached the finish line is definitely one of the challenges we see, since it quickly turns into complacency. It can also lead to a painful reality check when more change is inevitably needed as organizational needs and marketplace demands evolve.
There are several other pieces to the puzzle, too. Sometimes initiatives related to significant organizational changes aren’t scoped properly. Other times, leaders and their teams underestimate how much change is required to execute their strategy. There’s often not enough clarity around what these stakeholders need to do differently once changes are implemented, which leads people to make assumptions. As a leader, you can’t assume your team will know exactly how to move forward without clear guidance.
What do you say to leaders on the cusp of a big organizational change?
I remind them that they, more than anyone else in the organization, are the key to the success of the change process, and they have to guard against the things that will pull them away from that role. They also have a long list of responsibilities, so they struggle with how to prioritize, how to delegate and how to make the time to provide direction. That’s one of the common barriers we see a lot: Leaders have good intentions, but many don’t have experience leading through times of change and uncertainty.
How do you help leaders keep things on track?
The first step is making sure they’re communicating the “why” clearly and helping people understand the bigger picture. They should make it relatable to different stakeholders and really put themselves in their shoes in an empathetic way. Think: “How do I explain this – the purpose behind this change – so that it’ll resonate with this particular person so they’re more likely to buy in?”
Another big thing is engaging people early and often in the process, whether that be customers or employees. That really makes them feel like they’re part of the solution.
What gets you excited about change and helping businesses navigate such a complex process?
It’s exciting because when change is done well, you can see the impact in so many ways. Leaders feel supported, customers feel like they’ve been heard and employees feel engaged and excited about the future.
And ultimately, it impacts the bottom line. When a client sees it all come together, when they have that “aha!” moment and recognize how much value the initiative is going to add, it’s well worth the hard work it took to get there.
How do you help organizations keep motivation and productivity high when it comes to change?
At Navigate, we often use the Agile approach to break large initiatives down into smaller, more manageable pieces or sprints. This is crucial for large organizations, because many employees have a personal history with change, and not all of those experiences were positive.
By using the Agile method, people have better visibility and the process feels more manageable – it also allows for them to see a more immediate result. People can rally around and get excited about change from a performance standpoint and feel like they’re accomplishing something in a shorter period of time.
How should companies support employees during times of change?
Transparency is always important, but it’s paramount during change. It all starts from the top down. Leaders should have regular conversations with their teams, making sure to be accessible and visible, and to solicit questions even if they don’t have all the answers. Better understanding of the reasons behind a change fosters deeper feelings of ownership among employees.
They should also consider the diversity of their teams from a generational standpoint, and from a learning perspective. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, especially when it comes to change management. Leaders should understand how people react and respond to change and be willing to try different channels to reach their teams, and their customers, too.
We’ll ask you to prognosticate a little—what are your predictions for the future of change and consulting in general?
One theme that keeps emerging is this heightened awareness around customer and employee experience, and more specifically, the link between changes to the organization and how they influence the end-user experience. This emphasis on the customer, or customer centricity, is happening in all different industries. It’s getting a lot of attention as companies try to figure out exactly what it means, what it looks like in practice and how they can leverage it.