Change management is probably one of the most commonly discussed concepts of the last few years, among both human resources experts and business strategy specialists. It’s not just a fad. It’s a way to confront a reality that’s here to stay, and that has recently been driven by two factors: economic crisis and digital transformation.
To put it simply, change management means making decisions to take us from a certain starting point to a desired situation. Of course, this is a very broad concept; it’s impossible to carry out change management unless it’s completely personalized, with an in-depth study of each case. Companies are confronting the need to change for multiple reasons: changing strategic objectives, the need to adapt to new technologies, staff restructuring, the emergence of new types of consumers and much more. As one might imagine, a failure to properly manage change in such important areas can have disastrous consequences, so we must take the challenge before us very seriously.
One of the recent cases that we’ve dealt with at Montaner&A illustrates how to handle this kind of situation. It regards a company that had just hired a new CEO and board of directors, in which the type of management, focus, and communication style were causing great imbalances between the executives on both an emotional and operational level.
As a result of these changes, the company’s strategic plan had done a total 180°. It was coming out of a very negative experience with the previous board, during which there were no clear guidelines, specific directions or defined path. With the changes, the situation was completely transformed. The company found itself with a new CEO who was 100% results-oriented and had very clear ideas about where the organization should go. In fact, one might think that a situation like this doesn’t sound bad at all; the problem arises when new ideas are transferred downward and the rest of the team must internalize them and take them on as their own in order to ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction. Paradoxically, new ideas that were clear and goal-driven had caused confusion and blurred the tasks and responsibilities of some executives, who seemed to be lost.
Up until then, the company had worked on its own and sustained itself, but had no plans for growth or goals for improvement. We’re talking about 10 to 12 years of an established corporate culture whose changes represented a significant disruption for everyone. Suddenly, they were facing an important restructuring with the goal of improvement.
“When we thought we had all the answers, suddenly all the questions changed
Es una frase de Mario Benedetti que nos gusta mucho en Montaner&A y que ejemplifica perfectamente el caso. Efectivamente, los miembros del comité ejecutivo llevaban ya mucho tiempo viviendo en una zona de confort, con lo que el cambio fue especialmente impactante. Se generó una cultura del miedo en torno al nuevo director general, surgieron la ansiedad y el estrés, los malentendidos, sensaciones ya olvidadas que dieron lugar a una situación de bloqueo generalizado.
One of the first decisions: asking for help
Among the first important changes made by the CEO was the creation of a new HR department. He put in charge of it someone who until then had served as Director of Quality, and whose list of responsibilities would now expand with the new position. She’s the one who called us. We got straight to work. We helped her define the department, its roles and its personnel needs. Already entrenched in the position and prepared to make important decisions, she asked us to help resolve the stagnation created by the executives.
What did we do?
The mission was clear; they gave us carte blanche to resolve the situation through a group session followed by individual meetings with each of them. So what did we do? We inverted the solution by doing the individual sessions first and the group session afterward. For us, this was a key decision due to the need to first get to know the people through appreciative interviews, which were intended to shed light on their abilities, thoughts, vision for the future and anything else they wanted to talk about. Ultimately, it was the best way to understand the real problem.
Thanks to this process, 14 requests emerged about issues that were affecting staff, which we were then able to address in the group session. We grouped them into 3 categories:
1) Understand the situation: The objective was to understand how the world works today, normalize the situation and analyze what changes should be made in order to adapt to it, redefine their roles and leave their comfort zone.
2) Understand ourselves: It was extremely important to find the cause of the blockages, the emerging emotions, certain behaviors and the outbreak of stress. This part of the session served to identify the emotional anchors (positive or negative feelings caused by someone) and the triggers (which make one act a certain way). In this way, we were able to give them some tools to try to work through the negative anchors and promote the positive ones.
3) Understand others: We also gave them tools to identify certain personalities and figure out how to approach them— such as understanding that seemingly unfriendly responses from some people were really just a result of their shyness.
The final product was a roadmap that identified the actions that should be taken in order to improve the things that they believed should be improved. These guidelines have given way to the current phase, in which we’re carrying out the aforementioned actions. In other words, we (and they) already know what needs to be done. And we’re doing it!
But there’s more. Throughout our time with this case, we’ve witnessed the dismantling of several barriers that existed when we arrived. Once again, we’ve been impressed by the power of the mind. Many misconceptions have disappeared, making everyone’s lives easier. For example, we heard comments like, “I’m not up to the challenge,” which we discovered was only the result of a lack of communication, in this case regarding objectives. Who can rise to the challenge if they don’t know where the bar is set? We also identified some issues as clear as “I generate conflict.” No one says this unless 1) they’ve acknowledged the problem and 2) they have some intention of solving it. You could even say they were bringing on many of the problems themselves!
Not all the problems were mental, however; we also found operational faults that they are now prepared to resolve. For example, we realized that there were executives who were performing the work of operators, which allowed us to redefine their areas and roles and thereby increase efficiency. At this point we know (and so do they) that we’re on the right path, and all the big problems that we found when we arrived are now much smaller.