In 2018, a new Managing Director was brought in to lead the credit card rewards department, which is where I work. Changes in senior management are fairly common at my company, and usually generate a shift in direction. Sometimes the shift is subtle, and sometimes large; but our new MD had something more radical in mind. Our entire line of business announced its intention to make a major shift away from the IT model that had been in place for years and embrace agile methodology, and the MD volunteered their new department to be the first to make the switch.
The news sent shock waves through our organization. We had just gotten through being “volunteered” to be one of the first groups to move into a newly designed high performance workspace, which was a rough transition. People went from having cubicles or offices with large desks, locking drawers and credenzas, and room for visitors to being placed at long “tables” where employees sit at arm’s length from each other, and all our belongings had to be shoved into a 16 inch cubic locker at the end of the day. It was a huge adjustment, and not received well.
Now we were being asked to not only deal with our loss of personal space, but to completely overhaul the way we did our work, every day. Employees’ emotions ran from excited to anxious to angry to terrified. For the first time, perhaps ever, the whole group had a hard time understanding what was being asked of them, let alone being able to envision their place in this new ecosystem.
Early on in the planning, much of the discussions were being help by management, with little input from the rank and file employees. Gradually, though, employees were engaged in focus groups to discuss issues and concerns. Still, the rollout was being discussed somewhat behind the scenes.
Then we learned that the entire organization – including third party vendors — would be whisked away offsite (well, brought to the Chase Center in Wilmington, about 5 minutes from the office campus) to spend an entire week together to learn about agile from the ground up. “We don’t have time to take an entire week away from work!” employees exclaimed. “What are they thinking?”
They had done a lot of thinking, and an incredible amount of planning (which was shared with us as an example of using some of the Agile and Scrum tools). Here are a few of the highlights:
Chase brought in an expert: Ken Rubin, from the ScrumAlliance, to facilitate a lot of the training; they did not leave it to internal folks to do this. A really wise choice — Ken has done these rollouts at many other companies and comes in as a neutral force, not one demanding that we change, but instead showing us how it has worked before and how he helped guide them.
Of course, there were plenty of internal folks who were part of these events; and as each person took the stage to present about their bit of expertise, they began by introducing themselves and sharing about themselves — presenting their human side.
There were meaningful breakout sessions where we practiced what we’d learned, and gave us the opportunity to blend with people we would have never been able to work with before – it was also a huge networking opportunity.
The MD opened the entire event by painting a picture of a journey, complete with photos of a mountain-climbing trip they’d done years ago. All that imagery was used as a metaphor for what we were about to undertake.
And the food. The food was amazing!
What initially seemed like an enormous inconvenience revealed itself as an incredibly wise way to manage this change. We came away with great information, but moreover, we were immersed in the material, and truly shown the vision for this change. We were made part of it from the beginning.
That MD continued to use the “journey” language consistently once we all came back from the event and began the actual business of changing. I’m not saying that the week-long kickoff was some magical event — everything that followed was really difficult and uncomfortable (and frankly, still is). But that event served to make it clear to employees that management recognized the magnitude and valued them enough to spend a lot of money and time to give them the tools they needed, to create space to let us step aside from the day to day to focus, to get questions answered, to be present while we learned.
And we got these really sweet Eddie Bauer jackets. Notice the logo that was created to capture the message of the entire transformation, with the message “It’s a journey” above a mountain range. Consistent, unifying, supportive.
That’s change management done well.