February 2, 2016

A simple way to evaluate the effectiveness of your change strategy

By Nancy Appelquist, Director of Operations

The prevalence of change in the regular pace of business means it’s always in the back of our minds. But “change” and “change management” moved from the background to center stage late last year when news broke about a Dow/DuPont merger. This impending move, as well as other potential amalgamations, has the whole industry talking, as we’re on the brink of one of the biggest market shakeups in years.

Yes, it’s still a ways off, but when all is said and done it most definitely will trigger a ripple effect up and down the value chain. Change is coming whether we’re ready or not. And while there’s plenty of time to speculate about what the new entities will look like, the worst thing ag companies can do is ignore the situation. Businesses that will be directly or indirectly impacted should be anticipating what’s next and preparing for all the possibilities. For example, Dow and DuPont competitors will face a new contender in the field, with new market strategies and tactics at play. Distribution will feel the impact with new programs to administer, new distribution systems to master, and new processes for working with suppliers. And retailers will face ramifications both up and down the chain, with implications for growers to manage as well.

The Human Side of Change Management

Managing any complex change in your business is like walking through a delicate and intricate web, and having a solid strategic plan is only one part of the battle. Your biggest hurdle in successfully implementing massive change is often the human element—getting your people inspired, motivated, and prepared to plow through the change.

Like most consultants, I enjoy the occasional flow chart and infographic. There’s something Zen-like about that perfect combination of words and visuals that turns a highly complicated concept into something with brilliant clarity.

One of the best examples of this was created by behavior expert Tim Knoster, and I think its power is in its simplicity, showing the different ways change management programs fail and linking them with their likely culprits.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could boil all change management efforts down into seven simple steps so we could march effortlessly through every change?  Of course we can’t—but I find this chart fascinating in terms of illustrating the psychology behind people’s reactions to change. According to Knoster, there are six categories that must ALL be present for complex change to occur successfully. Any missing piece can have dire consequences to your outcome. His point of view is that if your change is failing, you should consider the symptoms (which are depicted in the right-hand column) and identify the component that’s missing from your change management strategy.

The chart makes it pretty clear, but I’d like to break it down and provide some examples to help visualize how this might look in our industry.

No Vision = Confusion
“I can and will do what you’re asking, but I don’t understand why we’re doing this and I do not feel confident about where you’re leading us.”

Early in my career I worked on a project with a senior manager from another department. Although he was very clear as to what I needed to do, he never really explained his vision of the end result that included work from several people across the company. As work progressed and the vision began to come into focus for me, I realized that I might have done things differently and coordinated with others more effectively had I known how my piece fit into the grand scheme. 

When there’s no vision—or worse, a vision that’s not communicated—people are left confused and untrusting of leadership and employees become far less effective.

No Consensus = Sabotage
“I’ll do it, but I don’t necessarily agree with it…and I might ruin this for you.”

If your team hasn’t bought into your vision and is not on board with what you’re asking them to do, then they may be less inclined to support your plan. It’s one thing to state a vision, and quite another to communicate it effectively and ensure it is resonating throughout the organization. If you don’t get everyone on the same page—especially your front-line managers—then you can count on half-hearted performance at best, or ill intentions at worst. People like to have a say; letting your employees have a voice is one of the biggest steps toward consensus-building.

No Skills = Anxiety
“This is stressful because it is beyond what I’m trained to do.”

The vision may be clear and everyone may be willing to do what needs to be done, but if their role in executing the plan is beyond their skill set, then you can’t expect them to be successful (and you’ll be stirring up anxiety in the process). As businesses consolidate and portfolios expand, one common complaint we hear in interviews with sales staff is that they’re not given adequate training to fully understand the new suite of products they’ve inherited. Their anxiety comes from feeling pressure to promote the products they know very little about.

No Incentive = Resistance
“I can do this, but I don’t see what’s in it for me, so I’m not feeling a sense of urgency to get it done.”

Maybe they’re willing and able to do what needs to be done, but aren’t feeling motivated because you’re not offering the right incentive. I know from personal experience parenting teenagers that chores are completed much more swiftly and enthusiastically when a trip to the mall hangs in the balance. Similarly, your employees need to feel valued for their efforts, especially when you’re asking them to put in extra hours, step up their performance or complete tasks that are a bit outside of their comfort level. Just keep in mind that incentives come in many forms and different people are incentivized in different ways.  Sometimes simple recognition for the extra effort is all it takes. 

No Resources = Frustration
“I can do this, but you haven’t given me the tools and resources to do it successfully which is SO FRUSTRATING!”

If your people have the skills but don’t have the right tools and resources to finish the job, it leads to frustration. Say your company has just released a new best-in-class product, and there’s excitement throughout the organization and huge demand for it right out of the gate. You set lofty sales targets for each district, and your sales force moves aggressively to meet those targets. Unfortunately, when it comes time to fulfill orders, your sales force is surprised to learn they haven’t been allocated nearly enough product to fill the orders, let alone what they need to meet their target. Frustration with a capital “F.”

No Action Plan = Treadmill
“I understand why this is important and I’m ready, willing and able … but what’s the first step? We need a plan.”

Maybe your vision is set and embraced by the masses, you’ve rallied and prepared your team, and everyone is ready to perform. The next important step is to lay out a clear road map. Without an action plan for executing the change, your organization will be running on a path that’s going nowhere. You’ll be like a motorist circling on a roundabout in perpetuity. You need an exit strategy for getting in the right lane so you can smoothly merge onto the new road.

The Complete Puzzle

When the bigger picture and reasons for change are clearly understood by everyone; when your team is on board to do what it takes; when they have the skills and ability to do what needs to be done and feel motivated to do so; when they have resources at their disposal to get the job done effectively; and when they have a very clear road map to get there, that’s when organizations can most effectively power through change and achieve the desired outcomes intended by the change in the first place. It’s a lot of pieces to monitor, but it’s your best bet for achieving the desired outcome.

As we head into 2016, a year which will offer us significant changes in our industry structure, changes from global markets and changes in political leadership, we will be helping our clients understand those changes along with their own internal changes. It's never too early to plan for the future. Even though you can’t always predict the details or the likely effects of changes occurring outside your company, you can anticipate what’s to come and be ready so you don’t skip a beat when it all goes down. Entira helps companies navigate through the intricate web of complex change. If you’d like to discuss how to successfully manage changes on the horizon in your organization, contact us at info@entira.net.