How to implement change in your agency (and make it stick)

Image for Emmeline Woodward By Emmeline Woodward

Making change in your agency is not in itself a difficult thing. As an agency leader, you’re doing what you think is best for the business on a long-term, commercial level. But getting buy-in from your team is a whole different process. And do you need this engagement to make your change successful.

Here’s a tried-and-trusted method of change management you can use when you’re introducing a new system, or indeed any type of new process, into your business.

Introducing a new system into your agency is an exciting time, because you know all the big benefits you can reap. But remember, not everyone in your agency has a commercial focus. Many will be creatives, devoting their working time to ideas and innovation, rather than profits and process.

And you could be tempted to think it doesn’t matter. You’re the boss, it’s your agency so they just need to do it. While there is definitely an element of not trying to be a people-pleaser, you do need to consider the bigger picture. And this means you need people to make change before systems and processes will work.

The importance of engagement

American change and leadership guru John Kotter has discovered there is only a 30% chance of organisational change success. Showing why implementing changes without any thought for how they will be received and adopted by your teams is absolutely not a good idea. And you need this buy-in early on.

Rather than dropping a new system on everyone out of the blue and then starting to garner favour, you need to keep your teams informed right from the start.

Eight steps to effective change

The Kotter 8-Step Change Model is seen as one of the most adopted management models, and for good reason. It can really boost not only your ability to change but your likelihood of success as a result.

  1. Create urgency. Here, you need to highlight a big opportunity that will appeal to the heads and hearts of your teams. You don’t need to be doom and gloom, but you can explain how your company will benefit from the changes, and how it could be detrimental not to introduce them. Your aim here is to bring everyone together with a common goal, energised and enthused about what’s in store.
  1. Build a guiding coalition. Ask members from all teams and functions to offer their input. Remember, each team will be coming from a different viewpoint, so you do need to cover every area of your agency. Together, you can identify the best new ways of working when your new system is implemented.
  1. Form a strategic vision and initiatives. There will likely be a lot of ideas and potential at the early stages. Creating a strategic vision helps you focus, linking all the concepts to a common aim and making sure you have a clear direction.
  1. Enlist a volunteer army. Offer team members the chance to actively participate, and make sure you recognise their efforts and inputs to encourage others to join in.
  1. Enable action by removing barriers. ‘We’ve never done it like that before”, “We’ve already tried that and it didn’t work”... expect plenty of statements along these lines. The aim here is to navigate around these obstacles to create new ways of working. Not to let the obstacles grind you to a halt with your plans.
  1. Generate short-term wins. A lesson learned here, a process improved there. Change won’t happen successfully in one fell swoop, rather in a series of steps. Recognising and acknowledging each positive outcome, however small, can really boost your efforts to engage your teams.
  1. Sustain acceleration. Use each ‘win’ as a springboard for acceleration, adding momentum to your journey to turn your vision into reality.
  1. Institute change. This is really important. Even when you’ve got great engagement from your teams, behaviours and actions have changed and you’re all on board, you can’t take your eye off the ball. This is where you really embed the new ways of working, turning them into everyday practice. Connect the dots between new behaviours and better performance, keep on communicating about what benefits you’re already seeing and turn ‘new ways of working’ into ‘normal ways of working’.

Running a change management project needs a multi-pronged approach to have a chance of being successful. Identifying strategic goals, researching systems and looking at commercial benefits is key. But equally important is getting buy-in from your teams, winning them around and communicating how this can improve their working lives. Forcing change doesn’t work. Managing change does...

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