If your distributorship is challenged by the change brought about by e-commerce, here are five ways to get on the right track in 2020.
Defined as the practice of applying a structured approach to transition an organization from a current state to a future state to achieve expected benefits, “change management” is a term that more companies are examining and deploying in the current business environment. Add disciplines like strategic planning, project management, organizational development, and process improvement to the mix and change management becomes a great enabler for companies that want employees who can adapt and embrace change.
Making that happen isn’t always easy. Just ask Justin King, author of “Digital Branch Secrets” and VP B2B Strategy at Salsify. King shares his own personal story of being asked to switch over to Mac computers after years of using a PC. “The company that acquired us gave us all Macs and I’m a PC guy,” he explains. “I spent about 10 minutes with my new Mac and then closed it and put it on the side of my desk. I opened my PC and have been working on it ever since.”
The Pain of Change is Real
Call it stubbornness or obstinance, but King’s personal story isn’t unusual, nor is it a sign of resistance. In fact, he says his biggest fear wasn’t of the computer itself, but rather of not being able to get things done quickly and efficiently enough on the new machine. He was also worried that he wouldn’t “know where stuff was,” be able to figure out how to move files around, or answer client questions quickly. “The pain of changing and learning something new is real,” says King, “and it’s something that we all deal with.”
Change management can be particularly onerous for electrical distributors that are vying for their piece of the $6.6 trillion B2B pie. Whether it’s the outside sales rep who is afraid that his customer relationships will suffer, a warehouse worker who thinks automation will take away her job, or an inside sales rep who thinks his hours will be cut because more orders are taking place online, the fears are both real and relative.
The question is, how can electrical distributors break through these types of barriers and roll out meaningful change in a business era that demands it? And, how can companies do this in a positive way that doesn’t send employees running for the hills, cowering under their desks, or setting new initiatives aside to simply gather dust (like King’s new Mac computer)? Here, King outlines five change management tactics that all companies can use to start working toward their future goals:
- Recognize the real problem at hand. When Spencer Johnson wrote Who Moved My Cheese over 20 years ago, he used a funny story about two mice to show people how to deal with change, enjoy less stress, and achieve more success in work and life. Fast-forward to 2020 and many of the principles in his book still apply, including the fact that most people literally fear “Change happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go,” Johnson writes. Keep this reality at the core of any change management strategy, King advises, realizing that people by nature tend to be afraid of change and what it may bring (i.e., the need to relearn skills, potential job loss, priority shifting, etc.).
- Don’t minimize their fears. If your employees are afraid of losing their jobs or being placed in new positions that they aren’t ready for, they’re not going to be productive, engaged, or on board with your change management ideas. And if you minimize those fears, you’ll only make the situation worse. “Most companies say things like, ‘Those aren’t real fears,’ or ‘Why would they be afraid of that?’” says King, who encourages distributors to open up 2-way lines of communication with their employees by asking questions like: Why do you feel like you’re going to lose your job? What can we do to make this transition easier for you? “If your sales team is afraid that e-commerce will impact their livelihoods, start talking to them about how it will actually help them do their jobs,” says King, “and how they’ll still be paid for the order even though they may not do the actual ‘order taking’ anymore.”
- Put it on repeat. Once the fears have been identified and assuaged, it’s time to put your change management messaging on repeat. “It takes seven times for someone to hear something before it actually registers and starts to sink in,” King points out. “That means you have to say the same thing over and over again every week to make your point.” Follow the lead of politicians who literally echo the same thoughts over and over again in an effort to reach their intended audiences. “That’s very intentional,” he says, “and a form of change management.”
- Get executive leadership on board. There’s nothing as powerful as a company’s president standing up at a staff meeting and talking about how his or her own compensation structure is changing to help employees understand why theirs is too. “Just like you, my compensation is going to be tied to our e-commerce success,” the person could say, thus reassuring team members that they’re not the only ones who have to change. “That’s a powerful change management tool that lets everybody know that this is not just about them; it’s about everyone,” says King. “The key is to let people know that we’re all going to change and do this together as one team.”
- Be prepared to let some team members go. While all companies would like to think that their valued team members will get on board with their future visions, the reality is that not everyone is going to buy into it. If the time you’ve allocated to helping them adopt and embrace the change has run out, then it could be time to replace that person with a more agile-minded individual. “As a discipline, change management only goes so far,” says King. “Once you’ve set and communicated the vision, and identified and waylaid the fears,” King says, “if you still have people in your organization that are bucking the vision, it’s time for some tough conversations.” On a positive note, as employees get more comfortable with change—and as they gradually come to realize that the external factors that are beyond their control aren’t all bad—they’ll be more adaptable, innovative, and productive. This alone is worth the sometimes uphill battle that change management places in front of forward-thinking organizations.
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