The past two years have brought along many changes in the workplace. From makeshift offices in our dining rooms, to Zoom-athon meetings, to changing business models – with the uncertainty of Covid-19, change was unavoidable. Change isn’t always easy. It can be hard and at times uncomfortable, but change can also bring fresh approaches and new innovations. With the topic of change management on so many of our minds, we decided to speak with an expert in change management on a recent episode of our podcast, “Bring Out The Talent.” TTA’s CEO and President, Maria Melfa, and Talent Manager Jocelyn Allan sat down with Anne Bonney to discuss change and how to embrace change management in the workplace.
Anne Bonney is a true change management aficionado. After moving twenty-seven times, attending 13 different schools from K through master’s, living on four continents, and having six distinct and successful careers – change has become Anne’s comfort zone. Anne’s ability to embrace the discomfort that comes with change has helped her become an authority on change management. Anne is now a best-selling author, podcast host, experienced workshop facilitator, and beloved TTA trainer. With more than 20 years of successful corporate and nonprofit leadership positions, Anne now uses her experience, education, and expertise to ignite her audience’s courage and empowerment skills to embrace the challenges that transition brings.
In this blog, we will share Anne’s key change management takeaways from her episode on “Bring Out The Talent.”
Q: What led you to become so passionate about change management?
A: I’ve dealt with a lot of change, and I know how hard it is for people. I recall a story from my childhood where I came home from school one day and my parents sat my brother and me down. They said, “we’re moving to Saudi Arabia this summer.” I remember watching my parents process this with my brother, and the whole time wondering what the big deal was. We had already moved 4 times in my short 7 years. I was used to packing and making new friends. I wasn’t sure where Saudi Arabia was, but from the sounds of it there was a lot of camels and sand, which was pretty cool. I remember my parents turning their attention to me and asking, “what do you think, Annie?” I looked at them, puffed up my little kid chest and said, “I’ve got places to go and people to see.”
After moving every one, two or three years throughout your entire youth, change becomes easy and it sort of becomes the norm. And sometimes I find myself changing things just to change them. Sometimes that’s great. But I also recognize how hard it is sometimes for people to take on change, especially in organizations where there are so many professional issues and organizational issues. I use my experience and unique background; I have that expertise to be able to ignite people’s courage to take on change and give them some skills to be able to do it.
Q: It seems like part of your philosophy is trying to make being uncomfortable from change fun, can you share more detail on that?
A: Change is hard, and change makes us get out of our comfort zone, which by definition is uncomfortable. So, we might as well laugh about it. We might as well normalize it when we’re in the depths of change. And the pandemic’s a perfect example of this where we’re all like, what is going on right now? Sometimes all we can do is just look at each other and have a laugh and realize that we’re not the only ones that are a complete disaster. And that’s OK. So it’s normalizing the discomfort and the chaos and the work and being able to laugh about it a little bit.
Q: Why do you think change management is so difficult for organizations?
A: You have the organizational challenge of making the change and running the business, but you also have the personal pieces and all of your humans that are involved in making that change happen. Each having different experience levels with change, different success levels with change, different comfort levels with change. So, you’re dealing with every single individual along the line that helps make that change happen, and each person has a different experience with it. And as a leader, the hardest thing is to get all that together.
Q: How do you handle it when everybody’s not on the same page?
A: I think communication is huge in change management, especially in the organization. People need to trust that you’re going to give them the information when you have it, because sometimes in the midst of change, you don’t have all the information. And people need to literally believe that you’re going to give it to them. They believe that you are all on the same team. We’re in this together. And you’re going to give me the information when you can. So, when somebody doesn’t have that level of trust with you as a leader or with the organization (because it could be either one), then they start to get into the resistance, they get into the challenges. And that’s when we need to start having some one-on-one conversations.
At first having empathetic conversation saying, “tell me what’s the challenges that you’re having?” or “I can tell you’re not comfortable with this. What’s up?” There may be some things that we can solve. There may be some things we can clarifying – that this is the change, and this is a support we have for you. We want to make sure that you stay on the team. And if people continue to dig their heels in and sabotage the change, then that is a little different. It’s still an empathetic conversation, but it’s like we need you on board. Here’s where we’re going. We’d love to have you with us. And here’s what we need from you in order for that to happen and letting them know here’s what’s going to happen if you don’t – so they can make their own decision. We can’t control what anybody else does, but I want to give them all the information they need so they can make the best decision for themselves. And that’s part of the reason why normalizing the discomfort with change makes this all a little bit easier.
Q: You have your “Five P Approach” to change that you talk about in your book, can you share more on that?
A: As I was sort of conceptualizing this book, I wanted to give it some structure, so people had some steps to follow. The first “P“ is what’s the point? And identifying why are we doing this? What’s up with this change? Why is this happening? Because as you’re persevering through all the winding roads of change and trying to get to that new comfort zone, ultimately knowing why we’re doing this is an important piece. In a situation where we’re picking the change or the organization is changing to modernize or to serve the client better, that’s an easy why. But in the case of a global pandemic, sometimes it’s sort of like why don’t we know why we’re doing this? I don’t want to do this. And the why becomes, why can’t we go back? Why can’t we do things the way we did? So, clarifying that helps us to be able to say, OK, well, I don’t like it, but here we go.
The second “P” is what’s your problem? And that’s identifying your feelings with it. We don’t talk about feelings at work very much, but feelings are part of the human experience, and we have feelings about stuff and feelings and emotions are not bad. It’s what we do as a result of them that can cause problems. So, acknowledging your feelings and saying I hate this because I liked it the old way, I was comfortable, I knew how to do it. I was competent. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to learn this new computer system. I’m scared of it, frankly, because I don’t like it. Acknowledging all of those feelings helps you say, all right, I’ve survived change before. I think I can do this again. And it helps you turn away from the door of the old comfort zone.
The third “P” is what’s your plan? What’s your path? What are you going to do to start to plan? How am I going to deal with this? And this means you’re looking at what can you control. Because oftentimes in change, there’s so many things out of our control and you focus on that stuff because it’s yucky. But in this step, you start to say, what can I control? What can I do to make this better? What can I do to move myself closer to that new comfort zone? So, starting to identify the path. Now, you can’t spend too much time in this stage. And a lot of people do like to spend a lot of time planning, planning, planning and not doing, which leads it to the fourth P.
The fourth “P” is punch it. It’s time to take action because action shrivels anxiety. When we’re sitting there in the plan, what can I control? What can I do? What can I do? We also remember all the things we can’t and the anxiety starts to come in. But as soon as we start taking action and taking those steps, that anxiety starts to wane a little bit because we start to really believe, hey, I do have some control here. There is something I can do. And I’m not just a complete victim of this situation. I can act on it, even if it’s something like talking to somebody, even if it’s researching something online, it’s going to move you towards that new comfort zone, whatever it is. So, punch it market time to go and then we persevere.
The fifth “P” is persevere. It’s now time to slog through it and keep trying and keep trying new things and keep moving forward. We want to always have this nice straight path towards our new comfort zone, towards this beautiful lighthouse at the end of this long, straight path. But that’s never, ever how it is. And if you’re one of those people that wants to see the whole path, even if you see it, it’s probably going to take a hard left. It’s sometimes a complete surprise. So, persevering becomes that last step to where we finally get where we’re trying to go. And the new normal, even though I hate to say that becomes our new comfort zone.
Q: How do you work with organizations to help them handle somebody who is resistant to change?
A: No matter how good you are at that beginning communication process, there’s always going to be a few people who are like, I hate this, I don’t want this. That’s where those one-on-one conversations that we talked about come in. That’s where listening, being empathetic, understanding, “hey, how can we help you get through this?” And then once you’ve had that conversation once or twice, sometimes it takes time and they’re going to grumble for a while. And sometimes you just give them some time and you start to see them getting on board or you start to see them not getting on board. And it’s time for that other conversation where you say, here’s what we need from you. This is your job. Now, I know you don’t like it, we’re here to provide the support you need, but you also need to meet us over here. And here’s what’s going to happen if you don’t. And again, they may have had a terrible experience with change. Maybe they got laid off at their last job, and they feel terrible about it and they’re living in that right now. So, putting yourself in their shoes will help you have more empathy and more patience in that moment. But also saying here’s what we need from you, and this is what’s going to happen if we don’t get that. And I hope we don’t have to go there. But that’s the next step. And they know and they can then make the decision for themselves. I’ve actually had a conversation with somebody where I said, do you want to be here anymore? Because you are miserable right now. And maybe with this new job, which wasn’t your old job, maybe this new job isn’t what you want and maybe a big change is what you want to do. And I said, I hope you don’t leave because you’ve got so much institutional knowledge that I’m going to be up a creek if you are not here. However, above all of that, I want you to be a happy human. Fortunately, she stayed.
Q: What are effective forms of communication during a change?
A: It depends on the team and on what you’re trying to achieve. It depends on the communication channels that you have. The key is to create an ongoing open communication culture where we talk to each other, we tell each other what’s going wrong, and we learn how to have those conversations in an effective way so that the other person is willing to take part in that communication. So, whether it’s email, instant message, text, we have so many ways of communicating. So, figuring out how you’re going to use the tools at your disposal, I like to recommend to organizations and to leaders that they create a standard of how we’re going to use our different communication channels. Interestingly, people have a different judgment behind different types of communication. For example, when a client texts me out of the blue, I’m like, what are you doing in my living room? Of course, they’re my client. They can text me whatever they want, but that’s like my initial reaction. Some people have that feeling about email.
Organizations should create a standard for how we’re going to use these channels,
- if you need a quick answer, text me
- if it’s going to require a little bit more or there’s an attachment, email it
- if it’s something you need an answer for right now, call me.
When we’re not walking by each other in the hall every day, it’s important to have this standard of how we’re going to communicate. Once you clarify that and everybody’s got the guardrails, communication can flow a little bit easier. But we cannot forget the importance of those voice-to-voice communication because there’s so much communication happens with your tone of voice, with your body language, with your facial expression that you miss in an email.
Q: How can organizations plan for internal changes or rollouts while taking into consideration the company culture?
A: I think it depends a lot on the person initiating and driving the change. One of the most fascinating topics that I train on is personality styles, because when we understand ourselves, our team members, and how people are wired differently, it allows us to deal with them and communicate with them and in a different way that works better for them. So, my point is that when you are rolling out a change or planning it –
- if you’re one of those personality styles that’s very relationship focused – you’re going to have more focus on the people, on the soft skills, and on the culture.
- if you’re one of those more technical people whose very task focused – you are going to be more focused on step, step, step this training, then this training, then we roll this out, then we push the button.
I think when you have a well-rounded team who has that open culture of communication, people are able to say, hey, yeah, I know you’re driving this and you’ve got the tasks down, but we also need to think about our teams. So, it takes that 360-degree leadership style that’s collaborative, that takes into account all of those personality styles. So, you’ve got all those strengths and you hit all the edges. I think one of the big problems is that sometimes organizations don’t. One person drives it and they have that typical personality style that drives it a certain way and that can impact the success or the speed and efficiency and grace of the change.
To listen to our entire “Bring Out The Talent” episode with Anne, visit our podcast page. You can also hear more from Anne on her podcast Ignite Your Influence. For more information on Change Management or Large-Scale Rollouts speak to a TTA Learning Expert today!