Leading the "People Side" of Change
By Jean Marie Johnson
Some years ago, I was involved with an organization that had just
acquired a high-tech call reporting system. The new system spewed
data like lava from a volcano. The IT folks loved it while the
managers scratched their heads trying to make sense of all of the
numbers, trends and forecasts. All of this data was supposed to help
make everyone perform better; it was just a matter of figuring out
how to make best use of it.
One manager came up with the “ah-ha” idea that if they posted all of
this data, the agents would get the big picture and better yet,
they'd get to see how they were doing in comparison with everyone
else. What a motivational tool! Brilliant! Well, hardly…
As an astute contact center professional, you can imagine the mayhem
that ensued. A team of agents with a solid track record launched a
contact center version of mutiny on the bounty. In time, the agents
and managers recovered from this leadership faux pas, but not
without learning some key lessons along the way.
Communicate the “what,” the “why,” and the “how does it effect me"?
As a manager leading change of
any kind, “due diligence” means that you personally understand and
can communicate the answers to the what, why and how questions.
Let's say the person you report to suddenly announces that,
henceforth, you will be evaluated under a different performance
management process. You would immediately want to know what the new
process is, where it comes from, and how it works. You'd also want
to know why – why this, why now, why are we not doing what we've
always done in the past, etc. In addition to all of these, there are
personal questions. You might wonder about how much training you'll
get on the new process, if it will be harder to administer and
document, whether it will make your life at work harder or easier,
more effective, etc.
The agents in the opening example did not know what the data meant,
why it was being posted, and what implications it had for them. This
all leads to the next lesson…
Engage, from the beginning, everyone who will be affected by the
The two core principles of respect and accountability speak well to
this lesson. Many managers feel comfortable with the task side of
change; the doing and implementation. The other side, often referred
to as “the messy part,” is respecting the people implications of
We all know what it feels like to spend restless nights tossing and
turning, imagining the worst scenarios in the absence of
information. Let people know what is happening from the beginning.
Invite their thoughts, ideas, concerns and questions. The more
involved they are the less resistance they will feel and more likely
they will be to adapt to the changes. Two benefits of engaging the
very people impacted by a change are 1) a better plan often
emerges from including different perspectives, and 2) being asked
and listened to is a powerful demonstration of respect and that is
what pays dividends.
Had the managers talked with the agents about their plans to post
the data from the get-go, they may have never posted it. With the
agents input they could have identified a process that the agents
not only accepted, but supported.
Emphasize what will remain the same:
It's amazing how often we focus exclusively on what will be new or
different, forgetting to address what will be the same. Few changes
are so sweeping that nothing remains the same. People derive comfort
and a sense of stability from what is familiar.
In our ill-fated example, specific measures such as targets for
average talk time and number of calls handled remained the same. The
only real change was the manner in which the measures were reported.
Imagine how different the response could have been if the agents
knew this before the data were posted. They may still have resisted
the posting, but they would have understood that the substance of
the information remained the same.
Remember to balance the message of change with a message of
stability. It is more accurate and it alleviates so much unnecessary
and unproductive stress.
Keep your finger on the pulse and course-correct:
We lead change by staying close to it. The old
adage about “managing by walking around” applies. It is not enough
to communicate, engage, listen and act. You need to observe the
impact of the changes you implement and be ready to adjust, refine,
or retract. You also need to be able to say, “I made a mistake,” and
When the managers who posted the ill-received data realized the
impact of their actions, they acted with courage and integrity. In
the words and actions that followed, they modeled both respect for
their agents and personal accountability for their actions. They
sought to understand the resistance and learn from it.
The outcome: the computer printouts came down and were replaced by
team and one-on-one conversations with agents to review both
organizational and individual results. They thanked the agents for
responding honestly and shared their willingness to learn from the
situation. The data was still there and overtime, the agents
themselves began to lead team discussions about targets and measures
– the dreaded data became the desired data.
Look at the process you undertook to implement a recent change in
your organization. Ask yourself which of these four lessons you
already practice, and which you should adopt the next time you are
about to invoke a change. Learning from these lessons will aid in
the transition and help prevent mutiny.
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Jean Marie Johnson.
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