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Free T-shirts, Change Management and “Wait for it…” Moments

By Scott Franklin
As appeared in Learning to Change

One of my life lessons is looking for those “Wait for it…” moments. These are the moments where you know what is coming next and have the opportunity to either use it as a teachable moment or possibly just enjoy watching it happen.

I had a recent experience with the latter that reminded me of the former. My two youngest daughters have been playing on club volleyball teams for a number of years now. Volleyball is a great sport from a parental perspective because 1) it is played indoors; 2) matches tend to run on schedule; and 3) it is quick-paced because every play results in a point for one side or the other. As a parent, I have always enjoyed volleyball season. I enjoy watching the teams grow and mature, and both of my daughters get significant playing time. This past season, I was the ‘team dad’ for my youngest daughter’s team and, as it often happens, one of the parents was particularly competitive. She was fun, a good sport and kept things in perspective, but she clearly liked for our girls to play well and win.

Winning has its advantages – the girls are happier on the ride back home, the parents are happier on the ride back home and, most importantly, the winning teams get free t-shirts. Anyone can buy a t-shirt, but Winning = Free. (Club volleyball costs upwards of $2000-$3000 per season, but throw in a free t-shirt and everyone is happy – go figure.)

Anyway, before the final tournament, an email came out regarding pre-orders for purchasing tournament t-shirts. As soon as I read the email, my immediate thought was “Wait for it…, Wait for it…” and within minutes, right on cue, my competitive parent sent a response “If the girls want a t-shirt, then they need to win the tournament.” She was only being funny (I think), but it also made me realize that when helping organizations implement change management, I have found two universal “Wait for it…” moments.

The first comes when the group being addressed realizes that beyond a set of tools and processes applied at a project level, change management is an organizational competency that impacts different levels in the organization differently. There are four critical roles to establishing change management as an organizational skill.

1. Sponsors – Much has been made about the critical role of being a sponsor in leading change, and rightfully so. Strong sponsorship is the top contributor to success and regardless of how good you are as an executive in seeing market trends and designing business strategies, if you can’t successfully get these strategies executed and implemented, you are going to be in trouble.

2. Employees – These are the people that execute the new processes and change the way they do their work to enact ‘the change’. The more readily the employees embrace the change, the faster the results will be achieved.

3. Supervisors/Managers – These are your most important change agents because they supervise and manage the day-to-day activities.

4. Change Management team – This is the group that designs the change strategy, assesses and reports on progress and obstacles, and supports the three other roles.

It’s a given that as soon as any one of these groups begins to grasp the principles and discipline of a structured change management approach, the questions start building until…

Wait for it….

“Have the executives been through this class?” or “Our managers are our most resistant group to change,” or “Who’s going to be responsible for managing all the activities of this process?”

What I have learned – and share with companies that are starting down the change management path – is that there are only two real answers. Either “We have to start somewhere and we are starting with you” or “Yes, we have taken [insert group here] through training/class/other activity.” The most important success factor to be truly effective at implementing change management is to have a plan for all four groups – otherwise you risk raising expectations higher than the organization’s ability to execute.

The other ‘Wait for it…” moment lies with basic supervisory skills. Supervisors are your most critical change agents. They ensure ‘product gets out the door’ on a daily basis, they manage the employees and, when changes occur, they are the primary communicator, coach and leader in changing the employees’ activities. They make the “What’s In It For Me” real to the employees and can turn the tide for or against a change. Invariably, when discussing the role, and the criticality of the role, of supervisors in change, the discussion culminates in,

Wait for it….

“Our supervisors aren’t good communicators.”

At this point the discussion starts down the path of how we compensate for these poor communicators. Maybe it isn’t communication skills – it could be coaching or resistance management or supporters of change – but it follows the basic premise of ‘how do we live with these weaknesses?’

To cut to the chase, clearly the right answer is “how can we help our supervisors be better change agents?” One of the core change management tools is a training plan. However, we often limit our training scope to the change at hand and miss great opportunities to build the broader organizational change competency skills.

As you work to implement change management as an organizational competency, there is no reason to “Wait for it…” in these two areas. Prepare a plan for addressing all four roles and ensure that you have a plan to develop your supervisors to be effective change agents - with the appropriate communication, coaching and resistance management skills.

Who knows – if you succeed, you may even get a free t-shirt!

 

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