Change Management and My Team
Change is Good, You Go First
I became interested in change management in this Spring when the life of Avanteam was rattled by the closure of Proakatemia premises and cancellations of projects. The team struggled in the beginning to find a way to continue functioning like we did before the changes. This led me to look for an interesting book on managing change and I found Mac Anderson and Tom Feltenstein’s “Change is Good, You Go First”. Not only is the book informative it is also easy to read and full of examples from the working lives of Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein.
Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein begin their book by explaining that change is always happening and there is no choice in whether to change or not, but that the choice is how does one react to it. Then they continue by explaining that change is an emotional process and humans resist it because they are creatures of habit. I think this has been the biggest issue in Avanteam because everyone felt negative towards the change that suddenly imposed itself upon us. Not only did we need to stop going to the workplace, but we were no longer able to see people outside our team and chat in the coffee room. At first it seemed like all the fun parts were removed and only grind was left.
Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein then advice that companies should convince their managers to agree to the change by involving them in the planning process of how to implement the change. This makes them feel that they are appreciated and heard in the company which is integral for the success of them implementing the change with their subordinates. When the beginning of a change process is thought about from the perspective of Proakatemia teams then the Business Leaders need to begin the process and recruit the most influential team members to stand behind it. This is what happened in Avanteam, our Business Leaders involved all members in re-defining what is Avanteam and what we want to accomplish. Then key individuals naturally joined them in doing the heavy work of building up the morale, finding new projects and partially re-inventing Avanteam.
It is not an easy process to build a fire in others and have them participate in the process. Part of it is because all teams and companies have baggage of old beliefs, practices and habits. Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein claim that it is easier for companies to innovate new ideas than to let go of old ones. This is where I would argue that it is because people are creatures of habit and love routines. New things are always scary and unpredictable so companies that are very risk averse could find them in a situation that they are slowly stagnating.
“If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance a lot less” Tom Feltenstein
The known truth is that companies must change to avoid losing their competitiveness. Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein explain that what one accepts and believes becomes what they do which becomes the outcomes they achieve. What that means is that companies need to be willing and able to let go of their old ways of working and embrace new ones.
According to Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein companies need to succeed in convincing their employees that they can implement the change well. It requires the employees to receive continuous encouragement and for them to be able to place their trust in the company. Usually the encouragement, listening and being trustworthy is carried out by managers who in turn believe that the change is needed and beneficial. I personally can vouch for this as in Avanteam our Business Leaders and influential members have been encouraging everyone to embrace the change and look for new opportunities rather than focus on threats.
Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein continue by introducing 3 important features that companies and managers implementing change should work on. Those are focusing on the strengths and bolstering them, removing barriers so that the change can be implemented and simplifying the message so that complex ideas are presented in short and clear manner. The three features are important because the strengths of the company will carry it through the issues that change raises, barriers must be removed for the change to be effectively carried out, and all employees need to have the same idea of why and how the change is happening so that they are working towards the same goal (vs different goals due different understandings). When I think of Avanteam we have leaned on our strengths in different situations, soft skills in building up the morale, marketing skills in helping companies and our information search skills in learning about new topics. Our Business Leaders and influential team members have worked on removing barriers so that the rest of the team can work efficiently by improving the way the team communicates, by requesting better documentation and by liaising with clients and Proakatemia as needed.
Then Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein move on to discuss the importance of speed in implementing change. They claim that it is important to do it as quickly as possible because it creates short-term wins that can help keep the momentum going. If the change process is stopped partway it is easy to get used to the lesser improvement it brought and harder to start it again. Unfortunately, we are not strangers to this even in Avanteam. Even though the team is still young we have had moments where we accepted partial solutions to a problem, as it was better than the situation before, instead of implementing the whole change process we were planning to do. An example of this was documenting progress on contacting companies and beginning projects with them. It was agreed that progress would be documented, and the topic was not discussed again until in one meeting a team member asked for clarification on project situations and everyone realised that somewhere along the way the updates had stopped. We had accepted a partial solution and gotten used to it until it no longer served a purpose for us.
“Change is only appreciated if it is meaningful in the eyes of the beholder” claim Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein. As an example of this they introduce a story from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company that years ago spent a large amount of money to upgrade bathrooms in their hotels by installing green marble flooring. To the amazement of the company customers did not appreciate the upgrade as it did not bring value to their stays. The customer reaction, or lack of it, made the company realise that they needed to change their strategic planning process, their quality management and their definition of successful customer experience. What this means is that a planned change should be relevant to the customer and communicated to them in a way that they can give feedback on it before it is implemented. Otherwise one might be buying a lot of green marble with no use for it.
Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein explain that for change process to be successful people involved need to be inspired to be personally accountable for their actions. They need to know how them seizing opportunities will help both the company and them. It is easier for people to commit to things where they have something to gain too. It is too easy to wait for somebody to take action without realising that they themselves are a somebody too. In Avanteam we have experienced this too and realised that no matter what kind of team it is, there will be no “somebodies”. It is better to let people choose their tasks, or assign them if you need to, so that they are personally accountable for the work that needs to be done.
Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein recommend that companies show recognition to their employees and foster a spirit for teamwork. Recognition can be shown on three levels: formal awards (employee of the month), informal awards (immediately given small gifts) and day-to-day awards (written thank you notes, letters of appreciation or other personal ways to give positive feedback). Recognition is very important as it builds satisfaction and loyalty. All companies should foster the spirit of teamwork simply because it will allow employees to work together better. It is also a component in building satisfaction and loyalty. When people work in teams they can achieve more and do not mind working hard as they see their peers do the same. I can say that I personally find it motivating when my boss praises me for work well done and at times, I have worked hard more for my caring boss than for the company. My most inspiring managers were able to build teams where people worked ridiculously hard and were rewarded with praise for their work. More official awards from the same company felt less good and a bit distant when compared to my managers telling me that I did great on Monday. It is the personal touch that mattered because they took the time out of their busy schedule to come talk to me with positive feedback.
On the topic of inspiring managers, Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein argue that effective leaders know to give measurable goals to employees. It is important so that they can follow to track progress of the change and to make sure the change is going in the right path. When I begun my studies at Proakatemia I did not set easily measurable goals for myself to see how I am improving and now I am struggling to quantify my learnings. I have learned many things from many people and situations but took a long time when I was writing them down and reflecting on how far I have come.
According to Mr Anderson and Mr Feltenstein leaders should follow their conviction when implementing change because there will be not only that lure to accept partial solutions or partial progress but a possibility to loss of vision. Leaders who have been the catalyst of the change should support it by leading the way and showing that they are truly committed to it. This also ties into the fact that the message for change needs to be repeated until the behaviour of employees is consistent with the goals of the company. I agree with the authors as I have seen our Business Leaders lead us with conviction, full commitment and repeat the goals they need us to reach. The team would have had many issues if our leaders would not have been so willing to take responsibility and pull the team along when morale was bad.
I wanted to share my experiences with Avanteam and change as it is a very current topic. I found it educational linking what the authors discussed with how the virus outbreak has affected our team Avanteam. By now everyone in the team are used to the new norm and have found the old pace of working again. It was not easy or as quick as we wanted but it feels good to be able to work efficiently again.