Learning Curve: Change management

by Tracy Clayson
Tracy Clayson is director of client development at
In Transit / CPC Logistics Canada. t.clayson@callcpccanada.com

For any company, a major shift in consumer behaviour, marketplace conditions – or even the retirement of the big boss – can cause a shakeup that requires a complete rethink of the corporate direction.

Over my career I have learned a lot about meeting and overcoming obstacles that accompany major change, and about being part of something larger than yourself, corporately speaking.

When a big change hits an organization, three of the biggest challenges are communicating goals to others in that organization; guiding employees’ performance objectives; and, continuously driving results. Here are some thoughts about how to approach each of these.

Communicating strategic goals to others

If you want to implement strategic and business goals and convince others that your direction is the right one, you have to communicate those goals effectively.

You must have your facts straight so you can make a clear argument, supported by relevant and comprehensive data. With these in place you have a far better chance of winning the confidence of decision makers. And you’re definitely going to need to do that. After all, your plans likely need their approval, and you will be proposing, directly or indirectly, new ways for them to spend their time and money.

Because your pitch – if that is what you want to call it – will also have to convince the naysayers, including the “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” crowd, it had better be watertight. One way to ensure those naysayers stay engaged is to make sure they understand you are speaking, and listening, directly to them – and by not dismissing their ideas.

This can be done in a number of ways, but the most effective is to avoid overt criticism of existing strategic goals, programs or processes, even if it is your aim is to replace them. Criticism breeds defensiveness, it’s not positive, and it won’t help your argument. Instead, convince them why your strategy will work because it is built upon the successful foundation of the previous one. Or, explain that the way to reach your strategic goals is to embrace old ones in spirit but add a whole new plan that takes into account present circumstances. Just don’t knock down what they’ve built, or believe strongly in.

Guiding performance objectives

When a company goes through changes it can mean major challenges in the areas of assets and operations – requiring the integration or conversion of systems, administrative processes and assets, and assignment work spaces, locations and equipment. In human resources it requires establishment and maintenance of a healthy workplace environment, while handling potential frustrations and fears (especially if trust has not yet been developed and expectations may have not been relayed well).

It is important to acknowledge the discomfort a company’s employees could experience due to new expectations and demands put on them, changed reporting structures or territories, a smaller or larger employee count or new product lines or services.

If you can acknowledge the changes – while providing clear direction on what is expected under the new regime – you will be successful in meeting your performance objectives.

Continuously driving results

In order to have true success, you need to know what it looks like. A high-functioning organization usually has a well-defined mission, strategy and tactical roadmap.

A common reason for a change initiative failing is that all areas of the organization affected by the change are not accounted for. A typical pain point in a larger organization is the so-called silo effect – where groups are working in isolation and not participating or collaborating in a shared effort to meet the overall business goals.

To combat this, your business goals must include detailed plans. In other words, each department and functional team should have an outline of the actions – and level of effort – required to ensure a successful outcome.

To drive results, financial data is helpful, but it can only tell you what has already happened – your revenue, costs and profits, based on your company’s past performance. Instead, set new targets and objectives and track them in real time, at frequent intervals, so you can highlight where the potential shortfalls are in your performance results.

A more forward-looking view will create a better focus on the current state, helping people see the connection between conscious effort and improved success. And it is far better than a blind attempt to meet goals without hard data.