Embracing change— in three easy steps

Post image for Embracing change— in three easy steps

Create a solid foundation, develop a plan of action and champion your direction.

A new employee recently asked me how we’ve succeeded in the recession when other firms have struggled or failed. As I shared our story with him, I realized our success can be attributed to our willingness to change. In fact, we’ve become quite adept at managing organizational change. This ability has allowed us to ‘keep our edge’ and adjust as needed with new market conditions.

Although the process of managing change may be somewhat different for every organization, in general successful change will require the following steps:

Step #1— Create a solid foundation. Any successful navigation begins by identifying your current location. Similarly, it would be difficult to implement significant organizational change without first understanding your current business reality. One way to clarify your business reality is to solicit outside advice or counsel.

This reminds me of a watershed moment our owners group experienced several years ago at a board meeting. Our firm was struggling and attitudes at the ownerslevel were pessimistic. Dick (a retired partner) was attending this particular meeting. For about an hour, he patiently listened to us bellyache about the economy and our business challenges— and then he lit into us. It was a moment of clarity for our group.

Of course, as often is the case, he didn’t say anything we didn’t already know. However, his perspective was clear and unburdened by the day-to-day operation of the business. That conversation was one of several that led to our current strategy for business recovery. Make sure you have good counsel.

You will also have a solid foundation for change if you spend time clearly identifying the reason you exist, the company’s mission, and the vision for your firm’s future. This business awareness provides the ‘North Star’ necessary to navigate course corrections within your business. A clear company vision will also reduce the anxiety caused within your organization by significant change.

Finally, verify with firm owners and management that everyone is willing to do what is required to succeed. Sound trivial? This can be a difficult discussion, as owners often have different goals. I’ve known several small firm owners who, when faced with current market realities, have decided they just aren’t interested in running a business anymore. That’s OK too.

If you do have alignment among your management group, you can proceed optimistically, knowing you’ve laid a solid foundation for change.

Step #2— Develop a plan of action. I won’t write a lot about strategic planning in this article as I’ve written extensively on that topic in the past. Stephen Covey teaches that everything is created twice— first in your mind, and then again in reality. As design professionals, we should understand this concept well. However, many of us neglect or avoid the strategic planning process. This is unfortunate and puzzling. You wouldn’t advocate that a client start a significant construction process with first developing a comprehensive plan.

Regardless of the planning process followed, consider that it may be more effective to define your plan in terms of the things you will stop doing today. We’ve certainly fallen into the trap of laying out a plan of action, and then returning to our work and continuing business as usual. No. Rather, decide today which type of client you’ll stop servicing, which employee behaviors are no longer tolerated, etc. Do it today. No exceptions.

When implementing the plan, tackle the hardest parts first. Like anything else, you will be the most motivated on day one. I can certainly appreciate the desire to gain a couple of early easy wins. However, we also tend to procrastinate the difficult steps. Instead, make the difficult layoff right away, or immediately fire that client, or start the renegotiation process for that problematic lease right away. The easier stuff will naturally follow.

Step #3— Champion your new direction. Gaining consensus might be your biggest hurdle when implementing significant change. Start by ensuring you have the right people on the bus. There are many in our industry who will continue to hold to the past. These may otherwise be great people and talented designers. However, this process will be difficult enough without dragging along naysayers. Instead, encourage them to find other employment opportunities, and then forge your new direction with employees who are completely “bolted to the ship.”

At M&S, we’ve adopted an open-book approach to our management. Communicating openly and honestly about our business has made change much more palatable to employees. An employee empowered with good information will champion important change for you. Recently, I overheard a water cooler discussion that supports this idea. Several employees were discussing recent news about a failing competitor. In that discussion, one of our employees complimented the owners group for our leadership during the recession. The group agreed. That type of positive affirmation is impossible in an environment where employees have been shielded from company performance information.

So, commit today to make the changes, no matter how difficult they may seem, to be successful in your particular market. If you pause first to bolster your foundation, put in place a solid plan, and then show leadership as you champion your plan, you will successfully navigate the difficult waters of this recession.

DERRICK SMITH is a senior vice president at MacKay & Sposito, Inc. (M&S) (Vancouver, WA). Contact him about the successes and challenges you faced as you’ve implemented change at dsmith@mackaysposito.com.

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310) Issue # 869

Originally published 6/28/2010

Derrick Smith is a partner with consulting firm MacKay & Sposito, Inc. (M&S), an infrastructure planning and design firm based in the Pacific Northwest. M&S services Water Resources, Energy, Community Development, and Geospatial clients and markets throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Derrick publishes regularly in several regional and national journals that focus on business development, project management, and human resources topics related to his industry. Derrick Smith’s thoughts and past articles can be found at www.derricksmith.net. He can also be followed @derrick_smith.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Astragony

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: