Managing change

Taking new opportunities from inception to success takes skilled communication in an organization.
Laura Aiken
September 28, 2017
By
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is notably attributed the quote “there is nothing permanent except change.” Incarnations of this statement have been said each way from Sunday, eight days a week, upside down, inside out and over the rainbow. Knowing the truth of this sentiment doesn’t mean we see it coming. Life is constant dichotomy between the change we choose and the change that chooses us.


The vending industry, like many in the technological maelstrom of century 21, is morphing. Jim Jackson of Quality Vending & Coffee Services in Winnipeg, is a leader in embracing change in the vending industry. In his view, there is still a place for traditional vending machines, but also a great opportunity for new programs like micro markets and pantry service.

“The biggest change to hit our industry right now is micro markets,” he says.

Micro markets combined with the conversation around health and wellness is changing the scope of what’s in the warehouse, he says. Pantry service, where vending companies sell wholesale to places like hotels or employers who want to stock smaller amounts of fresh items, is an up and coming opportunity he identified. There is no shortage of changes for operators to consider, but for certain there are considerations to be had for making a successful change in any company.

“In most cases management is your older part of the team,” Jackson says. “Now you’ve got to remember that the staff you are working with are mostly younger generation. They love this stuff. They find it exciting. It’s technology…it takes away the doldrums of traditional vending. In vending when you start talking about remote inventory management and cashless, this starts adding excitement to a business. Same with the micro market. It’s a different concept that adds excitement to your work. If you don’t make the change your staff will get bored.”

When it comes to expanding into micro markets, Jackson says proper communication with inventory counts and your drivers is paramount. The micro market is more work for the driver, so management needs to plan the routes to give drivers enough.

“Ultimately growth means more people required to do the job. Manage your resources and put another truck on the road when the time is right…You have to educate the management to embrace the change. At the end of the day you have to embrace change or you are not going to grow your business.”

Sometimes change goes beyond an expansion that creates excitement and opportunity. Sometimes changes mean layoffs. Sometimes it means new ownership for the company. Even when it’s good change, people want to know what it all means. With change, there are always questions.

Peter de Jager is a globally known consultant and keynote speaker on change. He has spoken in 40 countries and his audiences have included The World Bank and the World Economic Forum. He has identified seven central questions that are imperative to rallying the best change response and shared his views on why companies fail to get it right when rolling it out with Canadian Vending in a telephone interview.

Peter de Jager’s 7 questions
In a webinar he hosted on change management, de Jager sets the stage by reminding people that we all like change, make all sorts of changes in our lives, and would be bored without it. What we resist is being forced to move from point A to point B, he says in his webinar. When people are told to do anything, they tend to resist  because people just don’t like being told what to do. Companies need to be aware that staff are looking for the hidden agenda when they are told things need to change, and management should be aware of the key point of resistance before they communicate what is about to happen.

Here are the seven key questions de Jager says need to be addressed when mobilizing change in an organization.
  1. Why are we doing this? De Jager says it’s the first question you need to answer.
  2. WIIFM — what’s in it for me? What about our jobs? People need information. Information gives people control.
  3. Monday — people are on board. Now what is going to be done differently on Monday?
  4. Won’t? What will be staying the same?
  5. Might? What might go wrong? How are you mitigating the risk?
  6. Will? What will hurt? If there will be chaos, how do we respond?  
  7. Signposts – how do you know you are moving forward?

7 questions for Peter de Jager

1.) On a scale of 1-10, how important is personality when it comes to change response?
“Not much at all, number one. Here’s the thing: people have this notion that there are people who really like change, and while that is true to a certain degree, the reality is we all like change.”

   “Everybody gets married, everyboy learns how to drive a car, changes jobs. Regardless of our personality we do these things. We need changes. Our personality doesn’t really enter into those major changes that we embrace. What’s really important in change management is not how we differ, but how we’re the same. If I’m looking at an audience of 100 people, how they respond to change as a group is far more important in terms of bringing change about in an organization than considering how each individual will have a slightly different response to change. Focus on what we have in common, and you will solve far more problems than if you focus on how we differ. Personality is a factor, but it’s not that big a factor.”

2.) When is the best (or alternately worst) time to communicate change? Why?
“The best time is far in advance of the change. The worst time is making it a surprise. There should be no surprises and this is not even change management, this is just management practices. If you’re surprising your folks, you’re doing it wrong. You should be transparant enough that people know there is a reason for the upcoming change far in advance...Communicate early, communicate often, no surprises.”

3.) Why do organizations fail to communicate the “why” of the change?
It’s such a huge mistake that I don’t know why we decide to make mistakes like that...In a lot of organizations you have a staff meeting and you’re announcing your change and at the end of it always ask ‘are there any questions or concerns?’ In most organizations [of a certain size], there is dead silence in the room .And if you dig a little bit as to why there is silence, there’s not silence because we don’t have questions or concerns. It is silence for a simple and nasty reason: we’re afraid to ask questions We need to really examine that. The most important question in change management is why.”

 “We don’t create an environment where asking why is the right thing to do. We create an environment where asking why is actually seen by management as a mild act of insubordination: ‘How dare you ask management why? We’re management, we know what we’re doing.’ That’s part of the reason.”

“If you want to create an organization that is responsive to change, create an organization where people feel safe, feel encouraged to ask the question why.”  

“Let’s say you announce the change, ask for questions and get the silence. One of the things people do is try and plant questions in the audience. Don’t do that. People will know what you’re doing. Do this instead: Wait an appropriate amount of time. Acknowledge that no one wants to ask a question. Say you know a couple questions, and then ask yourself some of the questions the audience has and don’t chicken out, don’t throw yourself softballs; ask some of the harder questions – will this affect our pensions, work performance evaluations, our jobs? Do that a few times and then say, ‘okay, I am open to answering the tough questions,’ and ask again. Likely, if you have some rapport with your people, someone is going to ask you a question. When they do, be grateful. Thank them and say ‘that’s a great question.’ Don’t answer immediately. because there’s a trick you can bring into this. Turn to a flip chart. In the flip chart there are 25 to 30 pre-prepared questions. Say, ‘hold on a second’ and flip to the question that’s just been asked. When you do this you demonstrate that a) you are open to questions, b) you have done your homework, and c) you know the questions that are in the room. They enjoy that, they appreciate that. Once you’ve done that once, someone else in the room will put up their hand. The primary reason they are putting up their hand is not to ask you a question, but to see if they can catch you, because you’ve just demonstrated you know the questions in the room and now they are going to test you. With your body language, communicate that you are wise to the game. With a smile on your face say, ‘John that’s a great question,’ flip it over to that question and now you’re in the middle of a game, and it’s a game that the audience is driving... Eventually you need to give them a win. Say ‘that’s a really good question, I don’t have that one prepared,’ even if you do, and answer it. Do that process two or three times and next time you ask for questions hands will go up because you just changed the culture by demonstrating that you welcome the dialogue. That’s what change in organizations is all about: changing the culture so you can increase the level of involvement...It’s a simple takeaway that works because it taps into human nature, which is the key.”

4.) Why do organizations fail to address the fundamental concern for jobs?
“I’ll say it bluntly first and then we’ll soften it: because they are cowards. We know that the only reason people join our companies is so that they can get work to get money to pay their mortgages and kid’s university. The most important thing for someone in a good position is their position. If we threaten that, they revert to very simple survival questions — it’s the what’s in it for me question. How will I be personally affected? The reason we avoid it is because it’s tough.”

“Managers are like us. They really are. This us and them dichotomy that we create doesn’t really help the discussion. They avoid the question because it’s a difficult question and quite frankly most people don’t have the skills to communicate bad news...When you are affecting people personally, we need to have the confidence and the ability to communicate bad news.”

5.) If employees put a lot of trust in the company they work for, will they respond with less resistance to change? Why or why not?
“If there is complete trust in an organization, change management isn’t an issue. It’s that simple. And the reason for that is trust in your organization implies that I believe, based on past experience, that the organization will put my interest in as a variable...As long as that trust is honoured, and it has to be a two-way street, when an organization says they’re going to be making a change, we say, ‘okay we trust you.’ It’s when we don’t have trust, they want to know why — give me a reason...Trust is paramount, and sadly many organizations have very little trust going in any direction in the organization.

6.) What is the best method for communicating change initially? (In person, via email, etc.). Why?
In person, and the reason is very, very simple: body language...How you hold your body, how you move your body when you’re speaking, will communicate just as much as your words, and your body language will actually contradict some of the words that you’re uttering and people are wise enough to see through that. Now of course, that’s the reason we prefer to use email — because we don’t want to disclose everything...All of the people aspect of management can be ignored if you are doing it by email.”

“There’s no such thing as organizational change, unless we talk about how people respond to change...Don’t expect an organization to turn just because you’ve sent them a memo. It does not work that way”

7.) If we are similar in our change response, why don’t organizations put the shoe on the other foot when they are planning in the first place?
 “There’s something that is strange about human nature. We embrace huge changes... but we forget that part of it is the decision making process we went through in our heads before we embraced the change. We will embrace great change if we think it’s necessary.”

 “Immediately management falls into the trap of ‘we are going to bring about change by dictating it’, which is exactly the thing we don’t like. Management forgets that they went through a decision making process to come to the decision that a change is necessary...Then we get in front of our people and say ‘we’re going to change,’ and we forget about the need that we had to do this reasonaing and analytical process, and then wonder why they don’t want to go along with it. They don’t want to go along with it because they don’t see the reason for doing it...The reason we don’t do this is because it’s a lot of work...But management seems to forget that while tt’s easier to tell people what to do, the outcome is incredibly unproductive.”

This interview was edited and condensed.

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