Co-founder Mazuma
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Change management: Covid-19 forces firms to revamp processes

Over the last few months, life has forced us to change. But change is best managed carefully and with a considered approach so as not to be reactive or hasty. So what’s the best way to go about it?

10th Aug 2020
Co-founder Mazuma
Columnist
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Stop the domino effect
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No one likes change. Not because it isn’t necessarily the right thing to do, but because it’s uncomfortable.Change forces us to step outside of our comfort zones – and well, they’re not called comfort zones for nothing.

Over the last few months, we’ve all had to change in varying degrees, and without warning or planning. And whilst it’s been difficult and stressful, it proves that adaptation and change can happen effectively without excessive planning and prevarication.

In my own business, the necessity of change has forced us to take a deep dive into procedure to truly strip out what works from what doesn’t.

In the past I’ve discovered the odd one or two “tweaks” to our standard procedure that have left me baffled. Like the cover sheet from our electronic contracts that was being printed off, used as a to-do list for client onboarding and then scanned and re-saved to the client file. Maybe this would have made sense if we didn’t have a project management and workflow system that allocated and tracked those tasks! 

Still, I’m always grateful when I find these little nuances. It tells me something about our people and our processes. It forces me to ask the question “why”. Why has this procedure mutated? Is it because the procedure no longer fits the work appropriately? Is it too complex and so leaves people to skip bits or improvise for a time saving? Or is it a training issue and people don’t understand the value of following the process? Whichever one it is, it gives me the opportunity to review it and create something more fit for purpose, or a chance to educate and train on the importance of it.

For the most part, these little quirks and shifts that need changing back or re-thinking are met with cooperation. But what happens when change is met with hostility? 

During my career, I’ve had to implement change too many times for me to count. And there are a few takeaways from my experiences that I think will really help those of us putting in new practices and procedures during this very weird year that we’re in.

Making a change can feel like a criticism 

This is especially true if someone who wasn’t involved in the original creation of the process is the one to lead on the change. So how do you deal with that?

In my experience, I’ve found that before you even suggest anything is changed, ask the people involved for their input. Gently lead them down the route of “I wonder if you’d mind helping me make this a bit slicker” instead of “why on earth are you doing it that way?” If you can help them to figure out the change that needs to be made, and then let them own that process, even better!

Start with why 

Why is this change is necessary? And why now? What’s the implication of making versus not making the change? If you can let people join in the thought process and get them to understand the rationale behind it then you’re much more likely to get people to buy into it.

I remember when we first implemented the project management and workflow system into the business. We had three or four very vocal staff who simply did not want the system – to the point where during the training sessions they were demonstrably grumpy and resisted getting engaged in the process.

Fast forward a few months when the system was well embedded and they all became its biggest fans. I decided to take the bull by the horns and I asked them why they were so reluctant to have the system in the first place, but such fans of it now. 

Turns out that all those people were what I call “busy doers”. They love working through set lists and getting tasks completed and squared away. For them, the old system worked because they never dropped the ball and always got the job done.

In that moment, I realised that I hadn’t articulated to them that the new system would let them be even better “busy doers” and that they’d love it. In hindsight, I should have got them involved in learning the system and letting them train others on it. Basically, I hadn’t explained my “why” to them.

There is no good time for change 

Quite often when change is on the horizon people will snap back with variations of “I’m not saying we don’t need to do it, but does it have to be right now? We’re soooo busy”.

In this scenario, the way to handle it is to make sure that the change roadmap is really clearly communicated. And do it incrementally if you can. Let everyone know by which date we stop using the old procedure and which date we start using the new one. That way, people can get the transition and change straight in their own minds, in their own way.  

Contrary to people’s instincts, we’ve often decided to go live on a change during a really busy period. Why? It’s a combination of the pressure/performance curve and the 10,000 hours argument.

A busy period applies a degree of downward pressure which focuses people’s minds, along with the busy-ness allowing extra use of the new system (10,000 hours of practice to become an expert). Extra pressure plus increased use means adoption seems to embed more quickly.

I know that seems completely counterintuitive, but it’s something that has actually worked really well for us. Our best changes have happened during our busiest periods. Try it if you dare! 

Don’t be scared to revert 

Remember when Coco Pops rebranded very briefly to Choco Krispies and everyone was up in arms about it? To give Kellogg’s credit, they realised they had made a grave error of judgement and reverted back to the original. 

When we go through any process of change we always make it clear that if it doesn’t work, we can change it back. We build escape routes into the process so that if things don’t pan out as we hoped, we’re not snookered. 

In all honesty, we’ve rarely had to revert to the original process. But letting people know that the option is there allows them to relax into the process a bit more. Nowadays, much of what we implement starts off with a “let’s trial it this way for a month and measure the results”. Which leads me on to…

Measure. Measure. Measure 

Change is a very emotional journey. It’s really important that what you want as your end result is measurable and that you can benchmark against the old procedure to demonstrate the worthiness of the change. 

Every single one of us at some point has been a busy fool. In fact, every morning when I open up my emails I feel a little bit stressed and harassed by the sheer volume of them that seem to have appeared overnight. But after a few minutes of deleting and filing, I’m down to the core things I need to get on with and I feel a lot better.

My point is that how something feels and how it actually is are often two different things. I feel busy because I have a lot of emails. A new process may feel worse or clunky, but actually it’s just because it’s new. 

If you can measure your KPIs and have the data ready to assess old vs new, any resistance to the new and improved process should dissipate.

I vividly remember this exact scene playing out at Mazuma HQ when we made a new sales pipeline process. My then sales manager really didn’t want it to be changed and was very vocal about what a bad idea it was. After three months when the conversion rates were through the roof and all of the needles were moving in the right direction, he stormed out of a meeting one day shouting “Fine. But I just don’t like it!”.

He doesn’t work for us anymore. 

For me, change is always a way to improve something or provide something extra. It’s always a little uncomfortable and uncertain, but with the right management skills, the process can be very rewarding. Just always make sure that the juice is worth the squeeze.

Lucy Cohen is back on Friday at 1pm with the next and final episode of her AccountingWEB Live series Practice Growth. Register here

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