Do You Really Have to Change?

CHANGE MATTERS[su_dropcap style=”flat”]L[/su_dropcap]ET’S IMAGINE that you are the new head of Sales and Marketing for a large corporation. You have come from the outside and are very excited about your new role and the opportunity it represents. You also know that you have your work cut out for you. As part of the interview process you were told that most of your direct staff would have to go. The CEO doesn’t think they are the right people to move Question Markyour organization forward. As you get to know your staff you see what the CEO is talking about, but you wonder about the impact that swift and high level turnover will have on the productivity of the entire organization – not just Sales and Marketing.

As you ask a few trusted colleagues from outside the organization you find people of several minds – one camp says to make the changes quickly, like one rips off a Band-Aid and one camp says to make no changes at all for at least the first year. You suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle and you have one colleague who supports your instinct saying that replacing your entire staff, even over time will cause enough turmoil to negate any good it will do. What do you do?

Option 1: Rip off the Band-Aid

So you are thinking of using the ‘rip off the Band-aid’ method and just get rid of your entire staff in short order. I agree, it’s a way, but it isn’t the way most organizations even work. Just the paperwork alone and the conversations with HR will be exhausting and take away from the energy you could be using to move your new organization forward. So other than pleasing the CEO in the short term, it probably isn’t a good option. And that same CEO will be very displeased when it turns out that your actions actually caused a dip in productivity and outcomes. I wouldn’t use this approach.

Option 2: Slow and steady wins the race

Other colleagues recommend that you don’t do anything for at least a year. That way you can get to know your staff (and their staffs) and their real contributions. You can also institute changes to operations and procedures, including goals and objectives, and make your staff accountable. Perhaps this will be new for them, perhaps they will respond favorably – and then you don’t have to let them go. Of course, you will have to deal with your boss all along the way. They may see this as inaction on your part, even if it is part of your plan. Don’t forget to share your strategy and be prepared to defend it.

A lot of this approach relies on your ability to get a real read on the situation and institute organizational changes that will be implemented and stuck to, in order to achieve results. You may be able to do that, and you may not. That will depend on your staff and their ability to believe in and carry out your agenda during year 1. It is potentially risky but can ultimately pay off in significant ways for you. Giving the organization a chance to get used to you before you make big changes can pay off when you get to that point. Having a year to build organizational trust in you is a luxury so if you have the opportunity, make the best use of it.

But after that year you may decide that all those changes won’t be necessary. Which brings us to:

Option 3: Make vision and goal based changes

This option is a hybrid of the first two and really is the one that is ‘somewhere in the middle’. It requires you to be clear about your vision for the division as well as the goals that will get everyone there. If this is an organization that is used to having goals and a vision, then doing this will be easier. If this is the first time anyone ever set a vision and specific goals that were stuck to, you might have a harder time. Either way, if you have both of those things and you require every decision to be made in their context, then they will be easier to understand by everyone involved.

This also gives you a chance to stagger leadership changes and use them to your advantage. Maybe there are opportunities to promote from within, which is always good for morale and shows your commitment to your employees. It also allows you to show that there is a plan, however staggered, that leads you to where the CEO expects you to go.

It also gives you a chance to NOT turn over your entire staff. By showing that your actions are vision and goal based, you lay the groundwork for not letting everyone on your staff go. This will be important because you will need to balance your CEO’s expectations with your actions. As you assess your staff and see how they respond to you as a leader, you may find that previous underperformers ‘up their game’ in ways that make a difference. You won’t know that until you get into it, but it is possible, even probable that this will happen. And then you will have the best of all worlds, a completely committed staff – some who bring a wealth of organizational knowledge and skill and some who bring in from the outside what you were missing.

And the turmoil that one colleague talked about is real. Although it may seem like a good idea on the surface, turning over an entire leadership team causes havoc in the levels below. All the changes you want to make will be lost as people jockey for position and update their resumes. It will cause morale problems as well as productivity problems. It will be a distraction that will take away from the work at hand. And the new person will come in and want to make more changes, because they will see you doing that and think that it is expected.

So don’t be tempted by the short-term gain of CEO praise. Be mindful of the effect of mass leadership turnover and opt for a vision and goal based plan that produces short-term gain and long-term growth.



Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohn
BETH is dedicated to helping individuals and companies implement business changes that actually work. Beth believes in the ripple effect – that change handled well benefits everyone in an organization, over and over again. As a recognized expert in change as well as corporate culture, Beth consults domestically and internationally with a wide range of disciplines and businesses. Beth is the author of two books: ChangeSmart™: Implementing Change Without Lowering your Bottom Line and Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond (with Roz Usheroff).

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