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The 7 Pitfalls To Overcome When Leading Change

Vincent
Vincent
Aug 1, 2019 · 6 min read

Leading change can be so hard, no matter what your organization looks like! What if we could spare you some pain? Dear reader, I would like you to meet Julia Dubois. Julia is not a consultant, and she is not a change manager. She is not a coach either. Julia is Chief Operating Officer at TenForce. She has won all our admiration, and I’m pretty sure she will win yours as well. After having gone through a re-organization as an employee, she has driven change at team and department levels. Recently, she went much further and she took a big risk: she engineered a complete re-organization of TenForce. She succeeded and like the bravest and most skilled heroes of ancient times, she has survived to talk about it!

In the spirit of preventing you to fall into the most dangerous traps and helping you successfully see change happening at the end of the tunnel — all cheerful and celebrated like you should be — Julia wants to share with you the 7 things that will go wrong if you give them a chance to. Don’t worry, she will also tell how she managed to overcome these pitfalls. Hopefully, you can do it too!

The following content was part of a broader presentation that Julia kindly gave at our last “TeamTalks” event. Feel free to download her powerpoint presentation on our website. For more content regarding team development and to be sure not to miss upcoming events, please follow us on LinkedIn.

#1 — The organization chart changes, but the way people work remains the same

It can go wrong: it’s tricky when the purpose of the change is not clear enough. It makes it even harder for everybody to perceive what the added value is and they don’t embrace the change.

What we did at TenForce: we did it the other way around. We changed the nature of the work without impacting the organization chart too much. We made sure to give people time to adjust. We also took the time to conduct thorough research on methodology and to design a proper approach. We cherry-picked from different models such as sociocracy 3.0, the Spotify model and some of the Agile principles. Most of all, we looked at what was going well in our organization and we identified all our pain points to design what was good for us. As much as possible we avoided “fake news” (announcing change when everything remains the same in practice). It always demotivates people and it leads to management dramatically losing credibility.

#2 — Insufficient resources are devoted to the change effort

It can go wrong: you want to be careful and make sure that you have enough people, time and money devoted to the effort.

What we did: we took our time to design and structure the change. It required a lot of research and iteration. Although we worked in a close committee, we involved HR early on to get a different perspective. Later in the process, we also involved some key people to get more insights. It helped to look for different points of view. We spent a lot of time wondering how the change would look like from some of the employees’ perspective. We planned enough time for implementation. It took us about 3 months to design and we hoped to implement most of the changes in 6 months. We underestimated it nonetheless.

#3 — Unplanned activities disrupt change implementation

It can go wrong: you underestimate the impact of change on people and teams, you lose sight of the big picture or your view is too narrow. That happens when you don’t take into account the rhythm of the company. There is a lot to consider and many peaks, events or periods that can impact the change process. Making a change somewhere can end up impacting another team already under pressure. Ideally, you would use the momentum of the company to support change.

What we did: we tried to take into account everyone’s point of view. We carefully planned the change announcement so that it does not disturb ongoing activities and add some stress in the middle of busy moments for some collaborators. We knew that change would not be welcomed well if it came on top of everything else.

#4 — Distraction grows and productivity declines

It can go wrong: along with change come all sorts of distractions. When communication is not clear (or when there is no proper communication at all), rumors tend to spread. Anxiety follows a feeling of uncertainty. You can notice that employees are less and less engaged and productive.

What we did: we acknowledged that it was a difficult time and that there would be a lot of uncertainties. We did our best to provide a clear planning with check-up points and regular feedback sessions (individually, with team leads and in groups as well). Conveying a clear message from the very beginning was also key. It is not easy to manage the flow of communication. We tried to ensure that management was transparent, both to reassure people about our collective future and to demonstrate complete buy-in from (top) management.

#5 — Leaders actively resist changes

It can go wrong: change can be weakened a lot and compromised when leaders end up feeling threatened in their position or when the economical tension is too strong.

What we did: once again, good communication was crucial. It was important for us to get leaders on board when the change strategy started to become clearer. We took the time to have one-on-one discussions, to answer all the questions. It allowed us to get their sponsorship and to gain credibility.

It was also a great way to collect feedback in order to course-correct and iterate.

#6 — Employees actively resist changes

It can go wrong: when there is a lack of vision and purpose, it is only normal that employees start feeling fear for their jobs or the content of their jobs. Nobody likes bearing too much uncertainty for too long.

What we did: we spent a lot of time working on the message. The reasons for the change and the opportunities we wanted to create for the employees and the company had to be crystal clear. We approached it gradually, avoiding big change in one go. To do so we set up a lot of feedback sessions (in groups, one-on-one, etc.). You must have a valid reason to make the change: market change, company growth, refocused, etc. You don’t want to look like you are leading change without a real reason or purpose. We also made sure to make the change real, giving new opportunities as much as possible.

#7 — People leave your organization

It can go wrong: when the company’s culture change, you know that there is a risk that the old and new visions don’t match. It can create some frustrations and misalignments.

What we did: we gave opportunities to everyone in doubt to find a better or more suitable position within the organization. We supported them through individual coaching. We also didn’t fight it when there was a definite disconnect. It was a hard decision to make but when it didn’t work, we let people pursue other opportunities. There is always a risk when changing that people don’t feel at their place anymore. You have to accept that risk.

Conclusion — What you can do to get it more right than wrong

  1. See it from the employees’ side. They come first!
  2. Be well prepared.
  • Design your change thoroughly: every company is different, ways of working should be too. So don’t copy-paste what others are doing and make sure your actions fit the company’s culture and goals. Understand the current weaknesses and strengths of your organization. Forget about how things look like and start looking at how they do work. It takes a lot of iteration and research to get all the plumbing and wiring right.
  • Engage people: communicate clearly and frequently. Prepare key people in advance to get their support. Plan all sorts of feedback sessions. Make the purpose of change clear, show that it has been thought through.
  • Launch, learn and course correct.

3. Be aware that it will be difficult. Then it will get better.

4. Don’t forget any stakeholders and… see it from the employees’ side! Once again, they come first.

I hope Julia’s experience and advice will help you. Is there anything you would like to question or add? Let us know!

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Vincent

Written by

Vincent

Ex teacher | Product Manager | Facilitator of Learning&Development Experiences and Team Development Enthusiast

TeamPitfalls®

Stories about building innovative teams and avoiding their pitfalls

Vincent

Written by

Vincent

Ex teacher | Product Manager | Facilitator of Learning&Development Experiences and Team Development Enthusiast

TeamPitfalls®

Stories about building innovative teams and avoiding their pitfalls

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