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Dee Farrell - Change Management is a Thing!

Hello Toy Friends! I hope you’re all staying well and strong. Everyone I connect with lately is talking about the huge effect COVID is having on our industry. In the middle of this pandemic almost nothing is as it used to be. The “usual” times and places we all use to get together have been canceled or put online. Virtual is our new normal. We’re shipping samples to buyer’s homes, spending hours in Zoom meetings, and rushing to get new web sites up. And all the while, trying to keep our businesses open to tend to customers.

In addition to all of that, many of us are also helping our teams and employees make all these changes right along with us. While most of us in the toy industry pride ourselves on our ability to change and adapt really fast – this amount of change all at once is proving to be a real challenge.

But in that challenge, there is also opportunity. Many of the changes we’re making today are not just temporary. They will carry us well past the outbreak of this virus.

Change Brings Opportunity

Before my business partner and I started our toy company, Neat-Oh! International in 2005, I was in the software industry, leading change management activities for one of the largest software vendors for F500 companies. One of our strategies was to acquire smaller companies. My job was to make sure that the companies we bought were able to adapt, adopt and then embrace change. Being acquired is one of the most disruptive changes a business goes through. Without devoting any resources to helping people through the change, we would have risked not getting the maximum value from our expensive and time consuming acquisition activities.

You may be reading this thinking change management is a F500 company term or it can’t help your business. I’m here to tell you that there are things you can do to manage pandemic level change so that your employees and your teams can thrive. Change brings opportunity to improve your entire organization.

Change Management Helps People Adapt to Change

If you had an amazing product in your warehouse but you didn’t have anybody to sell it, you’d probably look at hiring a Sales Manager. And you’d probably expect your Sales Manger to put processes in place so new sales could be made and customers followed up on. Just basic business logic, right? Well, how many of you have thought about a Change Manager to help with business change? Do you have a resource dedicated to making sure that the people that make up your organization can PIVOT and embrace new things coming at them?

Imagine that you’ve just found a great new way to communicate with your customers virtually. However in order to make your idea work, everyone on your team has to learn a new online project management tool. Even though you know that the benefit of this new tool will be great for your customers, asking your team to completely change the way they work, might feel totally overwhelming for them. They might lose motivation or even avoid working on certain tasks because they don’t feel they have the bandwidth to figure out a new process.

Still, you know you need to implement the project management tool. How do you do it quickly, without a lot of extra costs, and keep your team enthusiastic?

How Can Change Management Help You?

The discipline of Change Management originated back in the 1990’s. Universities began publishing case studies about Change Management and consulting firms and teams started to implement it. Today, if you click the “Jobs” icon on LinkedIn and type in Change Management, you might be shocked by how many hits you get - over 40,000! Change Management initiatives are led by Change Managers. Change Managers drive change because they focus on people. While Project Managers lead projects - to design, deliver, and develop, Change Managers lead people - to embrace, adopt, and use.

In the last 20 years, there has been much research on the value (ROI, $$$ - that kind of value) of Change Management. According to research done by the Prosci, leaders in the field of Change Management, 6 times the number of projects deployed using Change Management techniques meet or exceed expectations. 78% come in below budget and 69% finish ahead of schedule. It’s hard to argue with those numbers.

If you haven’t been thinking about Change Management as a discipline there’s no better time to start than right now! And, there are some things you can do right away to leverage the opportunity in making changes.

My top 4 tips to remember:

  1. Businesses don’t change, people change. Add focus to the people side of change. For example, for that new online project management tool you want to implement, call your team together for a demo. Make it fun - have people bring snacks. Have your team brainstorm all the ways this tool will make their jobs easier or better overall. Take time to make sure they know where they can go to ask questions if they feel stuck. Take the extra time for these kinds of meetings. You will get your team onboard much faster and save time overall with the time investment up front.

  2. Encourage people and create hope. It’s natural for people to resist change. Did you know that change is actually perceived as pain in the brain? With lots of change happening all at once, that pain feeling can be intense. The best thing you can do is to give encouragement and create hope. Now is the time for pep talks and cheering everybody on! In our project management tool example, you could make a game or contest to see who will use a certain feature first. Help them see they will be able to master this new tool and that they can be much more efficient once they do.

  3. Ability is something you can build. People may resist making change because they question their ability to do new things. For example, even though you think your team will be able to utilize all of the advanced features of the new project management tool, they may not think so. Take time to understand their concerns. Maybe have them take a quick online training or even a webinar that will build knowledge and skills. You can help your team gain the confidence and develop the ability they need to master this new system.

  4. The #1 obstacle to successful change is ineffective leadership. Business leaders, this one is on us. Our teams look to us to lead the way. We need to remember to view things from their perspective. Create a vision for your team - a vision to engage their passion. Name the vision. Brand it. Maybe the project team now calls themselves the “Design Leads of the Future”. If you can stay positive and embrace change, your team will want to follow you. And remember….while it may be obvious to you why change is necessary, it might not be obvious to everyone else. Give your employees a chance to ask questions and add in their ideas along with yours – you’ll likely have less resistance and you will be able to move faster toward your goal. Your organization will also learn how to move through change more quickly. You’ll become more agile and responsive when Change Management processes are part of the way you work every day... and therein lies the opportunity!

The changes we’re all making now are going to be what carries us through this Covid crisis and beyond. Today, we are changing to survive. Tomorrow we’ll be changing to compete and get ahead. We can’t stop change but we can manage it more effectively. If you’d like to learn more about Change Management or how to work with a Change Manager, there are many resources available. I’m happy to point you in the right direction. Stay healthy, stay positive, and remember to manage change so it works for you!

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Dee Farrell has been in the Toy Industry for over 15 years. She is currently on the ASTRA Board of Directors Executive Board and and a Prosci Certified Change Manager. During her time in the Toy Industry Dee noted that most toy companies are not deploying Change Management as a discipline – and that’s something she’d like to change. Dee is currently Principal at Strasmark Inc., a consultancy dedicated to helping you build the capabilities required to achieve your strategic business goals. Strasmark clients include large global as well as small startup organizations.

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