Here at Teleopti we realize that implementing our WFM solution, or any, can be a challenging process, because change of any type, even a positive one (which we believe introducing WFM is), can be scary. Whether a company is using WFM software for the first time ever or having to get used to a different WFM solution, understanding the process of change, that it is something that needs time and good management, is essential in making the transition a successful one.
In this blog I shall walk you through ten questions that I think are important to ask when contemplating change in your organization. I will look at what change management really is, along with what handling change well, or badly, means for the employee and the company. In doing this I will consider the value of change management more broadly, but also connect back to what this means for contact centers moving to a new WFM solution.
1. What is change management?
It is important to note that change management is more than just a structural, tick-box way to achieve a change of behavior; it extends past a set time plan. It takes time, transparency, compassion and common sense to lead someone, such as an employee, from their current situation to a desired future state. A big part of this requires clarity and time-taking, and thus the overall process of change management, is the involvement of the people actually affected by the change.
2. Why does a company need change management?
Change happens all the time and the changes are coming faster and faster. As companies grow more and more economical, there is a greater amount of money to spend but it also must be used more wisely. With innovation, everything is progressing at a quicker pace, so changes are happening more regularly, all of which have to be adapted to. Indeed, businesses are undergoing changes at a much higher rate than they did 10 years ago. Simultaneously, the modern customer expects that everything, including their customer service interactions, should go faster, but without any drop in standards. All people, all companies are now in a hurry. The next change is around the corner, so you need to be ready with an environment of acceptance rather than an environment of fear. If change isn’t well managed, then there will be panic and disorder and more time will actually have to be taken making the change happen, costing the company money it should be spending elsewhere.
3. What situations might need effective change management?
There are a range of changes that require thoughtful, effective leadership, both purely within the company, and because of external changes that are affecting how the company operates:
- Internal changes: Company reorganization; New managers or colleagues; New working methods and systems; Centralization; Expansion. Or, a new WFM solution.
- External changes: Customer requirements; Digitalization.
4. How do I affect inner change?
There is no difference whether you are trying to affect inner change in the company or inner change in the employees of a company, they are one and the same. The changes that are happening in a company are happening to the employees, and how the employees feel about that change will shape the attitudes of the business and thus whether there is a successful change, or not.
Subsequently, whether talking to management or agents and teams, it is important to discuss change in an understandable, easy way. It is essential to inform and involve employees about a change happening very early on in the process – such as the implementation of a new WFM solution or module – so that the change becomes something natural to them. They will see it as something easy, rather than too big. Failure to involve them makes it something scary.
5. Why are some employees so hostile to change?
People are different, and respondent differently to the same situation, some people are rapid to accept change and others try to push change away, either rejecting or ignoring it. It depends on who they are as a person, their current situation, and what changes they have been through before – those more exposed to change are often the more accepting as it becomes a norm to them. Thinking back on my own history as an employee, the changes that felt the worst and that my colleagues and I responded negatively to were the changes that were badly handled. In a big company, you have HR and Communications departments, but sometimes the structure of working with change is there but not in a tactical, humane way. A well-structured plan might look good on paper, but the communication with the employees is bad, the tick boxes are checked but employees are forgotten. You have to really involve people and talk to them, whether individually or in a group.
Disconnection between managerial decision makers and those that the change truly impacts will incur hostility to whatever change is coming up. Therefore, such key figures (e.g. agents) should be informed, always. Even when there is nothing new happening, just say that, as then they are always being kept in the loop. Silence can give employees the time to imagine the worst, which will spread like wild fire. Best to avoid the Chinese whispers.
6. How quickly can I get through a cycle of change?
There is no set average for a cycle of change, within company or within person. Like any project, the timescale is specific to what needs to happen and dependent on all those involved. Allow enough time and eventually all those affected will accept the change, whether positively or ambivalently, we are curious by nature.
Yet of course you still need to have a set timeline for a change management plan, like any project, with a multitude of activities that include the employees e.g. tutorials and group discussions. These activities really do work, they just need to be scheduled and have the time to happen, let employees have the time to talk – this input can be invaluable. Equally you then have a wealth of advice/possibilities to help the change happen: both the negative and positive feedback. Once you have listened to and worked with that feedback then the change, and its reaction, becomes a lot more positive.
7. What is the difference between project management and change management?
A project can be ‘SMART’ (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound), which is more of a plan of doing things, whereas change management should focus on the people involved in the project. With change management, a timeline exists but there is also the more person-oriented focus of understanding people, and communicating with them. Change management, as well as having set activities, is slightly less ‘measurable’ or ‘time-bound’ as it is also an attitude, so it is ongoing, something that is with the managers and the company all the time.
8. How should change management impact the daily life of managers?
Change management will continually affect managers, during the day, almost all days, as it isn’t limited to set projects that come along, but, as I noted in the above question, a leader needs to have this mentality with them all the time. There needs to be an effort to always communicate with and involve employees, so that you are keeping them ready for any change that presents itself. If people feel they are seen and heard, then they feel positive about the company and their role. This attitude will really make a manager a leader, as those that they are responsible for will want to follow them. Stand behind your employees, and they will stand behind you. Tell them when they are doing well and when they aren’t doing the best that they could – just don’t ignore them and then expect them to be responsive.
9. What action points should I take when trying to implement change?
- Invite people into the process – set up individual or group activities.
- Communicate the goal and discuss what it means to the individual, the team and the company
- Listen – and take actions based on what you hear.
- Ask questions – get underneath the surface of people’s reactions and feelings. Find out what they need to be committed, and how you can help.
- No blame – accept all feedback; do not judge it.
- Don’t promise things you cannot deliver.
- Create the plans and time to make the change.
- Communicate – create a continuous dialogue. Provide information/facts and stay neutral.
- Celebrate every successful step
10. As a project consultant, how do I use change management with Teleopti WFM and its customers?
My primary focus is on project management at Teleopti yet I take the process and attitude of change management with me as I go and meet customers. I make sure to only use it in small ways so as never to offend the customer by telling them how to run their company. After workshops and training I will always say that it is important to quickly communicate what has been done and what the next steps will be, making sure that agents and forecasters etc. are aware of the transition to Teleopti WFM. I give managers examples of this communication and the possibility of taking a small group of agents and creating a project with them, so as to make them ambassadors for the change. I will never force these options, saying “you have to do this or that”, but I offer examples to help them achieve change quickly by involving agents. So far, the customers that I have met and talked about this with have only ever been positive about my examples and approach to introducing the software change.
To conclude, based on these 10 questions and answers, here are the three cornerstones of change management that any center or company looking to implement a successful change (WFM or otherwise) should remember:
- Participation – All employees need to be to be invested in the process of change, those overseeing it and the people affected by it.
- Communication – Avoid crossed wires and hostility by making the project as open as possible, keep agents in the loop and involved.
- Time – Don’t rush a WFM implementation or your employees’ exposure to it, give it time and you will save money and effort in the long run.
If you remember these three things in your daily life as a manager then change doesn’t have to become a huge, intimidating project, but an open conversation.