Change is a part of life and while some organizations might hope that some things stay the same forever, embracing change is what enables growth and innovation. That’s why change management is such a crucial practice to learn and follow in your career. In fact, with the amount of change that key account managers oversee both internally and externally when working with their clients, understanding change management principles is a must.
Just as many things in life, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about implementing change management principles, with best practices to follow. Thinking about undertaking a change-inducing project or see one coming up on the horizon? These are the best practices that all key account managers should know.
You Must Believe in the Group
Want to know the number one predictor that the project will be a success? Belief. Change of any size is a group endeavor, don’t forget. If the entire group isn’t on board or motivated to make the change happen and see it through to the end, then the project is doomed from the start. The belief that the group will be successful is what will help push everyone at every level through until the end, even when it becomes challenging or uncomfortable.
Rallying the rest of the team around the change can be easier said than done, especially when working on a project with a client rather than your own organization. Even so, there are a few ways to make it easier. For starters, we’ve found that creating a benefit-driven story can help you get the buy-in. It doesn’t have to be a fairy tale, but rather a plan of action with a method to the madness that makes it all worth it in the end. Tell stakeholders and team members how their lives will be better at the end of this project.
Focus on what they want to get out of an organizational change. Will their job be more efficient? Are you going to reduce communication breakdowns across the board? Consider how your project is going to improve the roles of everyone else involved and craft a story that distinctly describes it.
Evaluate the Capabilities of the Team
Implementing change is a team effort, so you need to take your time when assembling your team. Everyone has different skillsets and capabilities and although it might be easy to dismiss someone for not having the specific skills you’re looking for at the time, starting with the skills first, then delegating around them is really the way to go.
Although you’re a team, you should drill down to the individual level and evaluate the competencies and skills of individual team members. Who has the best interpersonal skills? Who is the tech-driven person? Who is the most detailed? Meet people where they are skills-wise and if you feel they might need to improve, help close the gap and make this the project that elevates them. Whatever you do, don’t cut people out or dismiss them because they’re not there just yet. It’s your job to support their growth and assign tasks that will challenge them without overwhelming them and putting a strain on the rest of the project.
How you go about delegating tasks and assembling your team is up to you, but you should already have a basic understanding of where everyone is at. At the start of the project, you can have the team volunteer for different skill positions. Lay it all out for them and announce the positions that need to be filled. If you have a hard time getting volunteers or don’t see the team shaping up how you would like, you can start delegating and assigning instead.
Read the Energy Around the Change
Is everyone super excited about this new change or are there a few holdouts? While everyone might not jump up and down when you first announce the project, it’s a best practice to get a pulse and a reading before the work begins. While it won’t always stop the project from happening, you’ll know what to look out for and who might drag their feet.
Ideally, everyone will jump for joy after the announcement, but that’s almost never the case. Hold a meeting and let everyone provide their opinions and thoughts about the proposed change management project. What do they love about it? What do they hate about it? Is the change really necessary for their role? These are the kinds of questions that you need answered and can inform your decisions moving forward.
If you find that a significant part of the team is cold on the change, you must address it here and get down to the root of the problem. If you were to brush it under the rug and just move on, it could build resentment for the project and they’ll be less likely to do their part and help with the change. That’s not good. While you might not win them over to being the project’s biggest cheerleaders, getting them at least warm on the idea and addressing their concerns is huge.
Hold Judgement Back
As you begin to create solutions, it’s crucial that you curate an open environment where everyone can voice their concerns, opinions, and ideas. Give them the floor and let everyone have a chance to contribute. If you place any barriers on ideas, you’re surely going to let a few potentially game-changing ones slip through the cracks so gather all of your most talented people in a conference room and have a good old fashioned brainstorming session.
Try and understand what they want to see out of this initiative and how it could make their roles easier. As everyone is spitballing ideas, you’ll start to notice patterns in the ideas thrown around. As you notice the patterns, jot them down and start categorizing them to make it easier to sort through them in the end. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these ideas and find ways to mitigate risks in implementing them and strategize how you could achieve the best-case scenario with them and capitalize on the opportunity.
Once you’ve narrowed down your top 3 ideas, it’s time to hold a vote. Have the team decide which solution they think is the most viable while still moving the ball forward the furthest and worth all of the effort. Since they’re the ones that will be down in the trenches making it all happen, their input is invaluable to you. With a solution decided and picked by the team, create a time table.
Consider which people need to do which tasks and set clear expectations and deadlines. From deliverables to hard due dates, make sure that everyone is on the same page. Having this clear understanding across the entire team from the start can help you avoid too many surprises along the way and the entire project will move along a lot more smoothly.
Create a Win for Everyone at Every Level
We all want to win, and with a win acting as a carrot on the end of the stick, it can motivate every member of the team, including yourself, to push onward. This metaphor isn’t meant to be literal, as everyone ideally will get the carrot in the end, but having a collective and individual goal to shoot for can make a huge difference.
You want to create a win for every single person that’s involved in the process. From the lower levels to the executives you had to convince to sign off on the project, they want something out of it. We’re all driven by the “what’s in it for me?” factor, so it’s your duty to either clearly describe what’s in it for them, or to find a way to make the effort worth their while.
Whether it’s pay incentive or the promise of a more efficient workflow, make sure everyone is in the loop. Although it might seem like an obvious best practice, you’d be surprised how many managers will forget to add an incentive to their project. When your team members are investing their time, energy, creativity, and ingenuity, you owe it to them to give them a win.
Reward the Team’s Successes
Following up on the last point, your team deserves a reward for all of their hard work. If you see someone make a play and enjoy success in their role, reward them for it. It’s the least you can do with all that they do for you and have done for the entire project. The worst thing that can happen is for any member of the team to feel like all of the work they put into the project wasn’t for anything. After all, if their work isn’t valued, was the project as a whole even worth it?
Whatever your initiative is, it should be a game-changer for the immediate stakeholders with ripple effects throughout your entire organization. If you can’t think of how this initiative is going to change the organization for the better, then it might not be worth doing in the first place. In your position, you need to be making big moves and chasing whales, not small pet projects that do little to move the needle.
Whether you cut commissions or bonuses or take the team out to happy hour, make sure that you’re acknowledging the hard work and achievement of the team with this project. Otherwise, they might not be as willing to go above and beyond in the future.
Although change management isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of process, there are still best practices that you should follow to improve your odds of success. The most important thing is to value your team and the work that they’ll put in to make the project a possibility in the first place. If you’re investing in the right kind of change, then the process is going to feel a little risky, and that’s okay!
Change isn’t worth it if it isn’t actually changing anything, so your initiative should feel scary and risky at first. Establish a solid process that you can repeat over and over and ensure that you’re mitigating risks and maximizing the project’s potential. Finally, reward your team for their work and inspire them to come up with their own ideas in the future.
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