A story about change management

Change management has been on my mind for the last few days.

The reason for that is I’ve been having to talk about my background quite a bit lately. When I do so, I often remark on how lucky I was to be given a lot of responsibility, early on in my career.

That often meant I was figuring things out as I went along. I made lots of mistakes and had to quickly learn from them.

One story always comes to mind. I was running the Customer Support team for Jagex and we’d quickly gone from a handful of people doing 9am–6pm, to 20 or so people doing close to 24 x 7 coverage.

We were noticing that office space was getting tight. Often desks would sit unused because the team was split across three different shifts.

There seemed an obvious way to fix it — hot-desking.

It would immediately increase our capacity by a third. If we re-jigged the shift system a bit, we might even be able to double our capacity. There was no reason why is was necessary for people to have their own desk. I just couldn’t see a downside.

So, I went about implementing that change. I wrote a couple of pages that explained the why, the what and when it would start. We even created some space for people to store their belongings etc.

It didn’t go down well at all. People were pissed. There was a downside after all.

Turns out people actually liked having their own desks and computers. They liked to customise and have control over their computer and they liked to store stuff on their desk. They didn’t like having to adjust their seat each time they sat down. They liked having their own space. Some even liked where they were positioned in the office. It helped make them feel like part of the company.

I felt like a bit of a dick for not having seen things from their perspective. I only saw the numbers. We quickly backtracked and decided it wasn’t worth upsetting everyone.

Ever since that, I’ve treated change far more delicately. It should be seen as a project, often with several phases. Consider things like timelines, project plan, stakeholder groups, accountability and regular reviews.

Since that day, I’ve gone on to lead and be involved with some reasonable sized changes. Implementing bonus programmes, closing studios (inc. making people redundant), controversial changes in direction, restructuring teams, large scale process change etc.

Of course, most changes will have their bumps. But, when you dedicate time up front to thinking everything through and planning it like a project, the end result is always better.

If you’re in a leadership role, it’s worth thinking about and getting good at managing change. A badly managed change can be very costly. It can ultimately lead to grinding to a halt and losing great people.

I had intended to get into the guts of how to manage change with this post. But I realised it was quite an in-depth topic and I’m not in the mood for a long one. Perhaps another time.

I would love to hear other peoples experiences of managing change. Both what worked well and what you cocked up ;-)

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