To Make Changes, Manage Them

By Nancy Hatch Woodward May 4, 2007
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HR Magazine, May 2007 As change accelerates, it becomes increasingly important to include employees in the overall change management process.

Lemon feta cheese, fresh basil, artichoke hearts, pepperoni, organic tomato sauce—all are ingredients of a major change on the menu at Round Table Pizza, a franchise restaurant chain headquartered in Concord, Calif. Because it’s thinner and requires some altered cooking methods, the Pepperoni Artisan pizza, introduced late last year, is “a pretty radical departure from other pizzas we make,” says Michael Hoessl, SPHR, director of human resources.​

New menu items, however, account for only some of the changes that Round Table Pizza has been making for business reasons—and managing with a strong focus on employees. The company’s initiatives include implementing a new performance management system and integrating employees in transition from franchises to company-owned stores.

“Thirty years ago, a Fortune 100 probably had one or two enterprisewide change initiatives going on; today that number is probably between 20 and 25,” says Jeffrey M. Hiatt, CEO of Prosci Inc., a business process re-engineering company in Loveland, Colo., and author of books on change management.

At Nebraska-based insurer Mutual of Omaha, which is undergoing some major information technology changes, Sharon Rues Pettid, manager of human resources over corporate learning, says the pace is quickening. “During the last two to three years, we have experienced more change than this company has ever experienced.”

Not only have change initiatives been on the rise, but the importance of managing individuals through change has been gaining credence as well. Corporate leaders are concluding that it can be costly to fail to manage employees through the process, Hiatt says.

The reason is simple, says Donna Curry, SPHR, recruitment program manager at Knoxville-based Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the nation’s largest power company. Employees who are dissatisfied with or upset by change are generally less productive than they could be. “As cold as it may sound,” she says, “it’s the bottom line. We have to get the most productivity out of every single one of our employees to meet the challenges of the future.”

What It Takes To Do the Job

An employer who is serious about change management, Hiatt says, has to have a structured, proactive approach that includes communication, a road map for the sponsors of the change, training programs that go along with the overall project and a plan for dealing with resistance. “You can’t manage people like you manage software,” he says.

What’s more, there needs to be integration of plans, Pettid says. “Our managers understand that their project management plan must incorporate change management activities, and we provide them with training. Our Coaching Through Change class helps managers understand the change management model, how to use it to coach their employees and how to put together an action plan.”

Getting buy-in for change management is not always easy, Curry admits. For example, she says, TVA has a number of engineers, “and they aren’t crazy about touchy-feely stuff.” So TVA developed “deliverables,” including a template for an outreach plan for major projects. It includes a list of groups the team needs to talk with, the logical people to speak to these people and the messages to be delivered.

Each project team at TVA also designates a change management manager. They are people “who are passionate about change,” Curry says. “As one of our managers said, ‘Managing change is a way of thinking, and there are some people it just comes naturally to. When you find those people, you grab them and use them.’ ”

Timing, too, is important. A survey by the Prosci firm, called Best Practices in Change Management, reported that while over 60 percent of participants in the study indicated that change management should start during the problem-identification phase of the project, fewer than 30 percent actually started that early.

Curry, speaking as an HR professional, says she can identify with such findings. “Sometimes we are not brought in until halfway through the project, but timing is critical, and the key is the sooner the better. People are going to know something is up. And if they don’t know what or why, they will make up their own facts.”

A Few Ground Rules

Curry says training in a change management process needs to be just-in-time and needs to be a dialogue—not the one-way communication often used in conventional training. “The way to do this is through consultation: executives talking to the entire workforce, senior management speaking with managers, and managers engaging with their staff,” she says. “The conversation has to go both ways.”

It starts with executives. They have to let the workforce know that change is coming or is already here, says Price Pritchett, CEO of Dallas-based consulting firm Prichett LP and author of more than 25 books on organizational change.

When Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor, Mich., acquired Maytag last year, Whirlpool made sure the president of its North American region was up front, talking personally to employees, says Tim Reynolds, SPHR, vice president of human resources.

Hiatt stresses that leaders need to be active and visible in sponsoring the change throughout the process. One of the biggest mistakes organizations make, he says, is having executives active only at the beginning rather than all along the way. When they turn their attention to something else, he explains, it sends employees the wrong message—that management is no longer interested.

It’s also important that what executives are saying is in sync with the overall corporate message. “There is nothing worse than getting a message out, and your executives are spinning it from their perspective, but it doesn’t sound the same,” Curry says. “Employees need to hear the same message from everyone.”

A Squeeze on Managers

Hiatt says research shows that managers often feel overburdened and worry that the change they’re facing may cause them to lose power or control, and they often don’t feel like they are a part of the process. Yet they need to help their employees manage change even if they may not have skills to do it.

Last year, in a Management Barometer survey of about 150 executives at large companies, done quarterly by New York-based accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 66 percent of respondents cited the lack of change management skills in middle management as a barrier to change.

Although experts may use various terms, there seems to be consensus among them on what managers need to address in change management:

  • What is changing?
  • Why is it changing?
  • How will it affect your area?
  • How will it affect each person individually?
  • What if your employees don’t support the change?

This is where just-in-time training comes in, Pettid says. You can offer training to managers ahead of time, but unless they have an immediate need for that training, it won’t be as appropriately tailored to the specific project as it could be.

Mutual of Omaha, which until recently offered a class for all employees on how to navigate change, decided it needed a new approach for dealing with change management, in part because of new projects in technology areas. The company is working with Prosci to help managers and employees understand and navigate the change process in real time. They are using worksheets for the ADKAR change management model, which Prosci publishes. ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement—the five stages of personal-change management.

The worksheets provide managers first, and then employees, a chance to analyze their feelings about changes taking place in their personal and professional lives. Once they identify areas of resistance, the model helps them find ways to overcome those barriers.

Using this approach with managers first helps them gain understanding of what their employees may be feeling. Having managers use it with their employees helps employees make adjustments to their own attitude and provides managers with useful feedback about areas they need to address with their staffs.

Tools such as ADKAR can be useful, but unless managers have developed some of the softer skill sets, they may not be successful in helping their employees through the change process. Unless you build competencies with managers, Hiatt advises, the conversations they will have with their employees will be about managing resistance, not managing change. Inexperienced managers may resort to threats.

People have a natural tendency to drift toward negativity when change is in the offing, Pritchett says, so employees at all levels should be trained to refocus their thoughts and be more positive about the change. The first step in managing employees’ resistance is to help them understand why they are having difficulties accepting change. They may feel they lack skills for dealing with the change, or they may be coping with stresses in other parts of their lives. Reassurance that they will still have their jobs, for example, or that they will receive the technical training necessary for a new position can help them overcome their resistance.

Probably the most important trait that managers need is good communication skills, but they also should be proficient at coaching and team building, empathizing, and developing an ownership mentality among their employees. Those capabilities can help managers work with their employees to overcome resistance to change and find ways to embrace it.

Whirlpool has had an ongoing curriculum for its managers and supervisors that stresses coaching and communication skills.

PwC has developed change management approaches for use within its organization and is now using them with clients as well. In some instances, PwC’s own HR professionals are brought in on special projects with its clients.

PwC introduced a “coachable moments campaign” that focuses on the need for coaching during good times and bad. Nathalie Gingras, HR operations leader, says PwC also recently launched a series of videos that illustrate some of the challenges of effective coaching, such as how to have difficult discussions with your employees.

Managers at Round Table Pizza are trained in helping employees to understand their role in an “ownership” environment and to see that what they do is essential to the success of the company and, ultimately, to their own success.

Feedback and Letting Go

For change management to be a true dialogue, employees must have opportunities to express their concerns and ask questions. PwC offers employees several ways to be heard, including an employee survey, conversations with supervisors and town hall meetings.

Before a new product or project is rolled out at Round Table Pizza, Hoessl says, employees meet with their managers and bring any issues they may have to the table. Their concerns could range from an element of a new corporate procedure to the taste of a new pizza flavor, he says, and the company listens.

Feedback can produce a variety of results—from employees’ comments on product changes as at Round Table Pizza, to identification of significant problems in adjusting to the change. In some instances, managers may lack the skills necessary for leading their workers into the change. Or they may not have bought into the change—and have let employees know it.

Of course, you can provide all the training, coaching and assistance in the world, but, in the end, it is up to employees themselves to decide if they want to support an approaching change. Face it, Hiatt says—not everyone will be happy about change. You have to be willing to accept the fact that it’s not part of your goal to drag the unwilling or the uncaring along.

Nancy Hatch Woodward is a freelance writer based in Chattanooga, Tenn., and a frequent contributor to HR Magazine.
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