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The two waves of managing the change

Updated: Jun 25, 2021

I would like to share some key learning of managing the change after a reorganization. This happen last year with the integration of a unit by another one. The main lessons that I have experienced is that change come in two waves: A first one brutal that you can't manage and that requires a lot of soft skills to deal with. A second wave, more predictable that you can build-on to shape your path and accelerate your transition to a improved new normal.

Illustration: Point break - Bodhi looking at the brutal first wave - Link

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Are you the kind of person that top management call when it is a mess, where chaos reigns and every wise person is hiding.... looks like I am!! Maybe I am not as handsome as Bodhi, but certainly like him, I got excited by the novelty, the challenge, having good tolerance to loss and an inner resilience... Just 'spoiler alert'. Remember that the guy dies at the end of the movie.

Another interesting point is that people have general tendency to focus on the negative aspects of change and also ... in most of the case there are many loosers in a situation of change. Surprisingly, the first loosers and therefore resistant to change are often the managers. That is a reason why negativity is often carried by a few fools (remember those guys top management call)... This is thus giving room for the organization to bounce back and build positive messages and success on the reshaping organization. Did I mentioned about the guy who dies at the end of the movie?

To my opinion it is useful to explain the two waves the organisation is getting through, the extremely positive outcome we can expect from it ... that justify the reason to change and also the senior manager tactic behind it.

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Before starting, I have to say how I am impressed with the sense of timing of senior managers in large corporations. Coming previously from start-up environment where 3 months sounds like an eternity, I experienced in large corporation that 2 years pass like an eye wink. I have to say it is the first major learning for me conducting change and was completely counter-intuitive as I am fast thinker and have high anticipation skills .... I will explain more in the conclusion about those soft skills recognition but before let me describe those two waves:

Wave 1

From sense of urgency and mitigation to developing a vision and joint strategy

Shock wave effect: This all start with just chaos, initiated with a sense of urgency by senior management, some of the historic leaders are asked to leave, some of the main activities are stopped. Even if you don't want it, you unfortunately send the message to all... that no one is safe and have no choice to adapt or leave. The consequence is that everyone is focusing on getting heir job done the best they can. This is also were you pick a small team of employees with high tolerance to uncertainties, positive mindset and early adopters of the change purpose. This small team driven by intrinsic motivation and have proven soft skills that will help to mitigate the worries and the fears induced to the employees. The soft skills team is also driving the change... by championing new working practices, mindset and attitude telling the rest of employees about the short term benefits of adopting and adapting to the new organization.

Summer vacation inflexion: While being focused on their current and new activities and adapting, employees usually benefit from the summer break to take some distance recharge and deal individually with the situation. Different path occurs here, either employees are not aligned with the new set-up and if needed to change prefer to leave the organization, this often happens if career progression trajectory is negatively impacted... As said before, there are mostly loosers in a reorganization and only a few winners. In other cases, employees see the positive impact on the organization and how it would benefit them on the long run, joining the ranks of the early adopters. Finally, a few surrounding the few winners will directly benefit from the change. Again, here a soft skills team supporting individuals decision in career transition and facilitating the process will contribute to reducing the fears and worries carried during the first wave.

Business as Usual: Back from summer break, people hard work and focus are paying off and activities start to deliver in the direction of the new organization. This helps to build solid foundation for the future. Therefore, while most of people are now aligned with the new direction and others are behaving in good leavers... it is time to collect constructive employees feedback to reshape the reorganization. This phase also requires soft skills team, not anymore to mitigate the employees concerns but to help senior managers to build a joint consensus and also accept the new positioning between those who have lost and those who have won during the transition. Because many people are affected by the change including managers, you should expect some critics leading to low engagement scores from affected employees. Also because it was additional effort for them, they expect some reward in return and this add to some of the frustration.

End of year reset: Because employees get the chance before winter break to share their frustration, critic and improvements, they can better enjoy and be proud of the hard work they achieved. They have built a fertile ground for very soon successes to come. At the same time, career transition outside of the organisation for few colleagues let the remaining organization with the most engaged employees ready to embark on the second wave of change.

Wave 2

Engage on vision, enable successes as a springboard to consolidate and drive engagement

Share vision and joint success: End of year critic and feedback from employees are facts that managers can't deny. Senior management will therefore build on that for the managers to adapt and adopt the new organization direction. This would clearly help building a joint consensus starting with the vision and how it is shared and supported among managers. In our case we had two managers level workshops with consolidated input from employees feedback as well as external stakeholders. Both workshops were helping to shape the strategy of the new organization.

Now its time to hard skills team to follow Kotter et al best change management practices. Using the winter break help to take some distance, digest the strategy. Then it can be planned, organized, ... it just need to be communicated to the employees using a large and adapted channels, in our case an internal blog linked to a messenger app to ease interactions. Thus, twice a month, high level informations are shared, first with the vision and purpose, then to the detailed strategy and now leveraging successes to justify meaning of the new organisation and the necessary pain of the getting through the first wave. As a second effort to drive engagement, the hard skills team use key feedback and critics from employees and can propose improvement actions for senior managers to drive in a few months plan. This happen toward two or three initiatives by the managers as a joint exercise. Actually it reinforces the message that employees improvement wishes are taken into account and because organisation has changed, it can now address those demands. In both efforts, here the soft skills team dealing with uncertainty is replaced by a hard skills team defining clear roadmap, actions, contents and deliverable.. this is also a strong sign of being back into Business As Usual.

Summer vacation inflexion: The business as usual reinforced by better alignement and regular communication of successes will slowly but surely drive higher engagement. In parallel, summer is the right time to increase team building activities. It will of course start with each sub-units to re-align again with vision and strategy. Then, it will happen at the organisation level with all employees celebrating to create jointly a sense of belonging to the vision and strategy. Buy creating some inclusion and unity and giving time over summer for relationships to grow, employee motivation and engagement should be at peak.

Momentum effect: After summer vacation, organization should be back on track and employees aligned and strongly focusing on delivering. Just few people will still be leaving the organization while the new joiners will value the strong spirit and engagement of the whole units, This would contribute to higher achievements and success. And it would also be reflected in the employees engagement surveys with increasing motivation and more positive feedback. Building on this collective motivation will create a momentum to take the organization forward in the next years.



Here we explained why waves transition and therefore shifting from soft skills to hard skills team is important... and why it needs to be well managed. It is clear that the soft skills mitigating team who also serve as adopters would dedicate a lot of energy while being at the center of the blame and negative feedback, here senior manager need to get their back and not let them down.. So don't be surprised if you see those first one having lunch time to time with the top management :) they just recharge and pass on the job to the hard skill team. Those second one are driving the implementation of the business vision and strategy. While its hard work, it is more likely to generate some credit and visibility. Great for them!!! This is important to build on the long run and make emerge strong role models, for employees to identify to.

The reality is that large organisations are bad at recognizing soft skills teams and often the lunch with top management never happen. As a direct consequence, for the next reorganization, that usually comes after two or three years, those amazing soft skills people will not embark anymore.... And now you ask yourself what happen in Point Break to Bodhi who dies at the end riding the giant brutal wave...... Actually they never found his body.. and let me share with you what happen to my opinion:

"Bodhi the gangster surfer, high energetic, engaged, intelligent and emotional has all the attributes of a multipotentialite, one of the rare untypical high intellectual personality. One of is unique aptitude is adaptability and resilience. Of course he crashed with the wave but same as Darrick Doerner, the stuntman of the movie, Bodhi survived as well. My hypothesis is that Bodhi is not ridding big waves anymore, only medium ones and for few magazines that pay well on a one shot. On his spare time, he writes a blog on best surfing experience, have a few drinks with surf legends he earned respect and prepare in secret his next heist. And this time, will all broken bones and scars healing, he will score high."

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