Leadership Matters: Demystifying Change Management

circle of businesspeople putting their hands together in the middle to signify teamwork and support
By Jessica Szewczuk, CPA, CA, CCMP

5 minutes

Making the effort to connect, collaborate and co-create with your staff on executing strategic direction can foster organization-wide buy-in.

I’m not your typical change management guru. I do not have a background in human resources or organizational development. I accidentally stumbled into the world of change leadership shortly after receiving my accounting designation. Since 2011, I have had the incredible opportunity to lead a variety of complex organizational change initiatives. But I didn’t receive formal change management training or earn my CCMP designation until very recently. In fact, I didn’t even realize formal change management existed.

This matters because it means I still approach change management from the same perspective as everyone else in the organization.

So what is change management? Here are two formal definitions.

  1. Change leaders at Prosci, a firm that offers change management training, certification and consulting services, tell us that that “while change is about moving to a future state, change management is about supporting individual employees impacted by the change during their transitions—from their current state to their future state.”
  2. The Wikipedia definition of change management is similar: “a collective term for all approaches to prepare, support and help individuals, teams, and organizations in making organizational change.”

While both of those definitions are correct, what I will tell you as an accidental change expert is that the meaning of change management depends on your audience.

  • For executives, change management is about having employees and stakeholders buy into and adopt change. It’s about getting them to commit to the required process or behavioral changes to align with the company’s strategic direction.

    Demystified: It’s about getting people to do what executives want and to love that they’re doing it.
  • For managers, it’s about balancing executive direction, sharing input with leadership, protecting their teams and bridging the gap between the inevitable conflicting views during change.

    Demystified: It’s about “saving the world”—or at least keeping a battle from breaking out—and trying to connect vision with day-to-day operations, influencing everyone to do what’s being asked and love that they’re doing it. Bonus points if you’re a magician.
  • For staff, it’s about being engaged and having a say in the change process, especially since they’re the group likely to be impacted the most.

    Demystified: It’s about getting their boss and their boss’s boss and their boss’s boss’s boss to do what the staff wants and love that they’re doing it, because after all, staff are the subject matter experts in day-to-day operations.
  • For clients, customers and members, it’s about “eliminating surprises.” They want to know what’s changing and how it benefits them—before it happens. Sometimes they also want to be engaged and have a say.

    Demystified: It’s about getting the easy, friction-free, seamless customer service that they expect, preferably from the comfort of their mobile devices.

With so many points of view in play, it can be challenging to connect the dots—or maybe herding cats is a better analogy—and ensure your change is successful. The secret to getting it done? Connect, collaborate and co-create.

All for Strategy, Strategy for All

Typically, organizational strategy, vision, mission and values are set by the board or executive leadership team and filter down through the organization. But imagine a world where everyone—front-line employees, supervisors, managers and senior leaders—collaborated on how to execute strategic direction?

Consider each functional group or department of your credit union its own army of subject matter experts. They are the people “doing the things”: They interact with your members and each other on daily basis, which means they have the most insight into the conversations, emotions and behaviors and characterize each functional area.

Ways to engage these groups include surveys, focus groups and facilitated group planning sessions. Not everyone has to be in physical attendance at all meetings, but for this approach to be effective, each team needs to feel like it has representation and an opportunity to sincerely be heard.

Most importantly, there is no point starting this process with the intention of discounting any group’s opinions or maintaining the status quo. It will discredit the effort and embed a negative change experience in the organization.

If you’re not ready for deep, organization-wide strategic collaboration, dial it back and try engaging your teams at a different level:

Building Leads to Buy-In

Recently, a colleague of my taught me about the IKEA effect. Essentially, because consumers are invested in building their IKEA furniture, they perceive a higher value in it. (Consider this: My husband and I have an ongoing 10-year debate about an IKEA entertainment center that I built, and he gave away. I loved that thing, even if it was wobbly. If he had helped me build it, would we still have it?) The same is true for change: If you want buy-in, commitment and follow through, co-create!

Change management is an art. It takes practice. Don’t be afraid to try it out, make mistakes and try again. It is entirely possible to implement change without an extravagant solution or full-time dedicated change resources, but it does take practice. If you’re ever feeling like an initiative is too big, too expensive, too important or too risky to fail, consider investing in a professional change leader.

Bonus pro tip: If the change has a profound impact on your core business, employees, members or key strategy, and/or its success is largely dependent on a change in employee behavior, it might be a good idea to at least get a second opinion on your change strategy.

Jessica Szewczuk, CPA, CA, CCMP is senior manager/consulting & business advisory services at Metrix Group LLP. She attributes her career as an organizational change leader in large part to Lakeland Credit Union (a midsize credit union in western Canada) where she worked, learned and experimented with change management tactics for nearly six years. While she has now shifted her career to leading her own consulting practice at a firm in Alberta, she remains passionate and energized by the credit union system.

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