February 14, 2012 Communication, HR, Leadership

Driving Change

Nobody likes change and some of us hate it. As a leader, your job is to get others to want to change. I remember when I had a Palm as my smart phone and tried to transition to a blackberry. Didn’t work for me. My husband suggested an iPhone, I wasn’t even going there. However, when I needed to upgrade, he bought me an iPhone and gave it to me as I was boarding an airplane for a business trip. I went a little crazy, but I had several hours to play with it on my flight without any pressure and I knew I would return it when I got back, but, I began to see the value it offered. I learned to use it and have loved it since.

Getting others especially other leaders to open up to change is hard. You have to help them understand what’s in it for them, because suddenly you are changing something in their very comfortable lives. They are going to resist and find every reason to point out that your conclusions and recommendations for change are wrong. If you want change to happen, you have to help them understand that change is in their best interest. Show them you are trying to drive results or metrics they care about. Help them understand that they stand to benefit from the changes you are recommending.

Here’s an example of what I mean: When I was part of a large call center, there were very different sets of metrics that people received incentives on. There was the call center, which was receiving incentives based on operational efficiency. They were rewarded for how many calls they were handling an hour, their abandon rate, their customer service scores, and how many dollars were they collecting while they were on the phone (it was a credit card collections call center). On the other side of the fence, there were people like me who were looking at the long-term customer satisfaction and retention. Sometimes we were advocating for treatments in the call center that met short-term operational goals but missed the long-term goals. The leaders in the call center wanted their teams to get you on the phone and say “you owe us $100. Please pay now.” All they wanted to do (and what they received incentives for) was to get you to say “yes, I will pay you,” take a payment, and then get off the phone and move on to the next one as quickly as possible.

My team was concluding that the long-term value was building a relationship with the customer and understanding their financial situation. If we better understood how we could help the customer and what his long-term goals were, we found those accounts were more profitable than others. The operational effect of this approach, however, was that those phone calls started getting longer and longer and longer.

In the short-term we were messing up the call center’s metrics, but long-term building a more profitable relationship with the customer. What we had to do was sit down with the call center leaders, and help them understand the long-term behavior we were trying to drive. We had to explain why it was in the best interest of the broader organization and of the company as a whole. We were pretty up front with the call center leaders and we told them we understood how we were going to mess up their metrics. We knew if we wanted to achieve the long-term changes that drove profitability we had to blow up our call center operating efficiency metrics.

We as leaders knew if we wanted to make those changes happen, we had to be willing to stand side-by-side with that call center leader in front of their boss and ask that boss for relief on those operating metrics. He had to say “if you want to make a change that’s good for the long-term business, this is going to be bad for the short-term for operating metrics. We need you to change the operating metrics incentive plan.” As soon as those call center leaders knew we were willing to go to bat for them and they weren’t going to get penalized on their personal incentives, they were much more willing to support the changes.

In the end, we made the changes, changed the incentive plan, and improved the overall profitability of the business. If you want to get other leaders to change, you have to be willing to stand side-by-side with them. You have to help make their case for change and do what you can to protect their interests while simultaneously pursuing your own. When you partner with others in change, change can actually happen.