Arguably one of the most critical components for any retail project – regardless of the size or scope – is a solid change management program. When properly supported and managed, change management can not only enhance organizational engagement and mitigate both disruption and productivity lapses, but also strengthens the company’s capacity to absorb and embrace future initiatives. In this second “Ask the Experts” post, we discuss key change management tactics and best practices.

The Parker Avery Group panel members providing their insights for this discussion include Associate Partner / Merchandising Practice Leader, Josh Pollack and Manager / Change Management Expert The Parker Avery Group. Courtney and Josh have decades of experience in overseeing change management programs for a variety of retail initiatives.

Q1. There are many schools of thought when it comes to change management; is there a “right” one?

Josh: There are a couple of schools of thought or dominant models, including the Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model or the ADKAR model, as well as others. These are mostly different ways of saying the same thing, and no approach is necessarily better than another. The best change management approach is the one that successfully engenders and maintains the constructive differences in behaviors and attitudes among the target audience.

Courtney: Speaking generally, there is not a “right” school of thought for change management. Instead, I believe there are foundational principles that can be found in most change management models. However, for successful change management programs, it is about the delivery and approach of the program. The practitioner should look at the environment, culture, experiences, and stakeholders before deploying a one-size-fits-all approach. When I talk to other change management professionals, we typically have a methodology that we gravitate to more than other; however, after a while it becomes a hybrid of different models based on past experiences and being able to adapt to your audience.

Q2. We often hear about companies that feel they can handle change management internally. Yet Harvard Business Review and others have cited about 70% of all change efforts fail. When a company performs change management on its own (i.e., without engaging outside help), what key activities that are typically overlooked or minimized in the process?

Josh: They typically short change the entire effort. Rarely do companies have enough appropriately trained change management resources for the kind of big undertakings in which Parker Avery is involved. In these cases, it is often best for clients to “rent” expertise rather than “buying” it with permanent staff. Also, certain change management activities are hard for internal resources to accomplish. For example, it is very difficult for internal resources to have effective stakeholder alignment conversations, since they require candid and objective assessments of which leaders and groups are change adopters and which are change detractors.

Courtney: Stakeholder analysis is often not performed, or if it is, it’s not adequate. I have seen stakeholder analyses performed in silos, meaning the core project team defines the impacts, concerns or reactions of a business area without engaging the specific areas. Many times, employees who have been at a company for a long time believe they have a good handle on the perceptions and workings of the entire business. This is principally true; however, they may only be able to identify surface-level information instead of root causes. Additionally, when internal resources perform stakeholder analysis, you run the risk of stakeholders not being forthright. It is surprising how much more people are willing to share with a stranger versus someone they work with or know personally. All of this means that the change management program can be based on the wrong assumptions of the stakeholders.

Q3. In your experience, what are the biggest hurdles companies face in achieving effective change and how can they ensure the change “sticks” for the long term?

Josh: Even companies with strong internal change management programs tend to pay too little attention to the sustainment of change over time. There is a tendency to close out the project soon after go-live and pack up change management efforts. Most backsliding occurs after the intense scrutiny of the change implementation project. The trick to is put into place periodic change reinforcement activities at measured intervals after go-live to ensure desired behaviors become common practice.

Courtney: One of the biggest hurdles companies face is not engaging change management resources early in the initiative. It is great to consider and make change management a part of any transformational project; however, there are times when change efforts are brought in late to the process. They can still be very effective, but the team may be faced with having to address negatively perceived decisions and actions, with the only reference being the aftermath. Change management professionals are used to navigating the curve with resources, so that part is not uncommon, however, when in place early in the game, they can witness – and sometimes even predict – when stakeholders are sliding and can proactively address issues before they snowball and negatively impact the project.

Q4. What are the most critical client roles to have involved in change management efforts and what % of their time should they expect to spend focusing on change management activities?

Josh: Most frequently, the roles that are under-involved in change management are the senior leaders of the organization. We discuss this element in a Parker Avery point of view, “Change in the E-Suite.” These roles sometimes seem to feel as if change management and communication activities are beneath their pay grade or better handled by more subordinate resources. The importance of senior leadership as prominent, positive change leaders cannot be overstated. Their involvement demonstrates to the broader organization the company’s commitment to the changes, the importance of the project efforts, as well as implies negative consequences for being a naysayer or backslider. The % of time required from these folks will vary based on the client’s organizational structure and the nature of the project, so it is hard to provide a meaningful benchmark.

Courtney: I think many would agree having leadership involvement and buy-in is paramount. Even then, there might be coaching needed to ensure they are successful in the role. We have written about it before in “Change Management…Implemented” and “How to Be a Project Sponsor,” and without a doubt the following four characteristics remain the most important:
          —Knows where the “rabbit hole” starts
          —Knows where the “satisfactory line” is
          —Makes the tough decisions
          —Models the right behaviors

The last thing you want is the constant “spin” that can occur, eventually resulting in time, money and efforts being exhausted or wasted. I would estimate that a project leader would have to expect at least 20% of his or her time to be effective (and even this is somewhat subjective). This time requirement can rapidly increase as the project gets closer to go-live or roll-out. Additionally, having dedicated business resources is key; this means taking individuals out of their full-time, daily roles and making them full-time members of the project team. Resources deployed in this manner are more fully focused on the initiative, as opposed to splitting their efforts and ultimately jeopardizing quality on both fronts. Further, these individuals must not only have the appropriate knowledge set and willingness to share it, but must also be respected by their peers and supported by their supervisor.

Q5. If you could name the top 3 reasons for a successful change management program, what would they be?

Josh: (1) Thorough change management planning; (2) Appropriate involvement of senior leadership; (3) Timely, open, and honest communication about project progress, changes to roles, as well as advantages and disadvantages of new tool, processes, policies and methods.

Courtney: (1) Focus on sustainability; (2) Transparent communication; (3) Identification and support of change agents.

For more Parker Avery thought leadership and case studies on Change Management, we invite you to read:

If you have any questions about your own change management efforts, or any other retail challenges, please don’t hesitate to contact Parker Avery. Stay tuned for our next “Ask the Experts” post, where we will give Parker Avery perspectives on retail trends from the west coast.