How Leaders Can Handle Change Management with Their Teams
Change does not want to happen. The status quo is tenacious. Change management is hard.
Heck, Newton’s first law is the Law of Inertia. Things will stay as they are, unless a force pushes or pulls on them.
And you, publishing leader, are that force.
To help you drive change in your department or overall business, let’s walk through the MECLABS Conversion Sequence Heuristic. This patented methodology — developed and refined from two decades of research into real-world customer behaviors — is a thought tool designed to help leaders increase the probability of any conversion. For this article, our conversion goal is whatever change you are attempting to lead.
Motivation — Understand Where They Are
So You Can Help Get Them to Where They Need to Go
A customer’s or employee’s motivation has the biggest impact on conversion. You can’t change that motivation, but should understand it so you can tap into it.
While it’s important to regularly meet with your team and really understand where they are, in general, you should make a special attempt to do so when you are about to launch a change.
- What drives them?
- What are their goals?
- What value do they derive from work — compensation, of course, but what else?
Personally, while my brain logically understands that people are different from me and have different motivations, I can still be caught by surprise when I drill down with them into the specifics.
For example, I dislike being micromanaged. So I try not to micromanage anyone who reports to me — freedom plus accountability works best, I say.
But I was shocked in a touchbase with a direct report, when we basically uncovered together that he would like much more hands-on direction over his specific daily tasks from me.
The better you understand your team, the better you understand where they fit into the change you’re planning. And that’s something you can work on with them.
I look at a good job through the lens of a Venn diagram. One circle is the employee’s passions. The other circle is the functional needs of the business (or department). The overlapping portion in that Venn diagram is their job responsibilities. You can never get that overlap to 100%, but it should not be 0%, either. So how can you maximize it? How can you help channel their passions into the change you’re planning, and tweak the change where possible to match their passions?
Value Proposition — What’s in It for Them?
Cast a unifying vision for the change you’re planning that shows the value proposition of the change. And that value proposition should happen at multiple levels.
- There is an overall value proposition for the company.
- There is a value proposition for the department.
- There should be a value prop for customers.
- And a value prop for employees, as well.
The better you understand their motivations, the better you can tailor a value prop for them (based on how you’re tailoring their job responsibilities to tap into their passions).
If one member of your team has a goal to manage employees, and this change necessitates growing the department, perhaps the value prop for that employee is getting direct reports (and mentoring them through the recruiting and hiring that goes along with it and will be necessary to your change).
While another employee might value quiet, focused, introverted work, you could focus that person’s value prop around engaging in reflective writing to power the internal and external communications and content needed for this change.
Incentive — That Little Extra Sweetener
I like to think of incentive as the bacon of marketing tactics.
Just as it's not healthy to live on a diet of only bacon, if your marketing department is dependent on incentives for all of your sales, that’s not healthy (to your margins), either.
But bacon does have a place. It can make anything taste better. Take a plain kale salad, throw some bacon on top, and — boom to your tastebuds.
It's the same in marketing. Incentive can be that extra little bit that tips a customer to conversion, but not the entire driving force. The driving force should be tapping into customer motivations with a powerful value proposition.
Managing your team through change is similar.
If their motivations don’t align with the changing direction you’re taking the company or department, frankly, you really have to explore if they are still the best fit. And if not, help them move on to the next step of their career.
If you can’t craft a strong value proposition for all the key constituencies — especially employees — you should question if this change is really the right thing to do.
But, once you understand the motivations and value prop, there could be a place for a special incentive to employees to coax them through the change. Again, change is hard and making it a little sweeter for them could help.
Is there a bonus, once the change is complete? Will this change help increase a profit share?
Or is it something much simpler? An award that re-affirms changed behavior? Maybe simple gift cards when certain milestones are met? Or a better work environment?
If you understand the motivations and get the value proposition right, incentives aren’t essential. But change can cause pain (more on that next). So, in certain circumstances, that little extra sweetener can be just what’s needed to catalyze a transformation.
Friction — Resistance to the New
Caused by the Pain of the Change
Change isn’t only about tapping into motivations, of course. It’s not all positive. There are serious negatives and pains you have to overcome.
One of them is friction. Employees have a muscle memory built up for everything: from completing a specific task, to working with vendors and customers, to running the entire department. It’s just human nature.
For example, I changed my computer password recently. For at least a week, I would reflexively type in the old password. So even something as minor as changing a password caused friction in my daily work life.
How much more friction is caused by changing a marketing automation platform, CRM, or ESP? Or how about an entirely new go-to-market strategy?
Look for ways to reduce friction for employees. What tasks and processes are absolutely necessary and which have just calcified in the department, over time? For example, is anyone still using those reports that were originally asked for years ago and are still being regularly created? Do you really need a new CMS with that site migration, or would some plug-ins or custom code get you to your business goal?
Another way to help employees overcome friction is to help them develop new habits and get out of a rut in their way of thinking and doing. According to Charles Duhigg, developing a new habit requires a cue, a routine, and a reward.
For example, let’s say you would like your team to engage in more A/B testing, instead of making marketing decisions based on their gut. The cue could be that any time there is a debate over a headline or design in a meeting, you say, “Let’s test it!” The routine would be the behavior itself — running the test. And the reward could be a gift card for the creator of the winning treatment, which is announced in a fun way at the beginning of departmental meetings.
Every culture is different, of course. What is a fun cue or reward for one will just rub another culture the wrong way. But finding ways to reduce friction is a universal necessity to change management.
Anxiety — Fear of the Unknown
Change is scary. As the latter-day philosopher, Garth Algar, has said, “We fear change.”
From the deeply personal (Will I lose my job? Can I work well in the new environment?) to the professional (Is this change compliant with new data regulations?) to the deeply profound (If we no longer sell cars, are we still a car company?), your employees will have plenty of spoken, as well as unexpressed, anxieties.
We all deeply desire control over our present, as well as our future.
So how much control can you give employees in the change? You have to determine what is essential, and what is open to interpretation.
Also, build trust through transparency. Be as transparent as possible. (There are still likely some places where you have to exercise discretion.) And welcome open and honest conversations. This transparency can also help you better understand employee anxieties and, therefore, address them better. Don’t make promises you can’t keep — “I guarantee you will never lose your job” — instead, show them how they can add and receive value (based on the change) and where they fit into the overall picture (based on your understanding of their motivations.)
When employees tell you their anxieties, make sure they are heard. Even if the anxieties are unrealistic, in your opinion, don’t just callously dismiss them. You only make that anxiety worse if the employee thinks you’re not really hearing them or understanding it, and they will be less likely to reach out to you in the future.
You will never eliminate all anxieties. And that’s a good thing you should communicate to your team. Those anxieties can help protect the department and company during the change and help ensure the change is successful.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.