3 reasons why the best change managers get out of the office

change managers
Friska Wirya


written on May 19, 2017

Change is rarely welcomed. People say they want it, but when change managers come knocking on their door, most bury their head in the sand and pretend they don’t hear the rapping of the knuckles.

Change management is all about the people – supporting them, coaching them, listening to them – and sometimes change managers dragging them kicking and screaming into the future.

When aiming to bring about behavioural change, I get back to basics. Connect first at the individual level – ideally in person. Then expand to teams, departments, functions and so forth.

Here, the three mantras shared by all effective change managers.

1. You don’t know what you don’t know

Change managers need to get to know the different stakeholder groups to uncover the (often perceived) obstacles standing in the way. It could be an emotional, structural or physiological barrier. How do you determine what this is? Ask questions – and lots of them. This is not possible if you spend the majority of the day cooped up in an office.

Here’s an example. I was on a multi-faceted project for a government client which involved:

  • A physical relocation (from a convenient CBD-located 1950s building fit for demolishing to to a new custom-built smart building – pretty much the boonies with minimal surrounding infrastructure);
  • New hardware;
  • Software upgrades;
  • New security policies and processes,
  • A shift to open-plan work spaces and consolidation of numerous departments on to a single floor,
  • Introduction of vehicle pools with minimal parking, and, oh…
  • throw in a new CEO to boot.

It was an archaic, stereotypical public sector culture; most employees had decades-long tenure and were firmly entrenched in their comfort zone.

The location of the new site was the hardest problem. Resistance was strengthening by the day, manifesting in sabotage, malicious gossip and present absenteeism.

So, what did I do?

  • Negotiated with the public transport authority to purchase discounted corporate transport cards in bulk, sufficient for each employee.
  • Contacted surrounding businesses in the new vicinity and secured special deals for employees valid on the day. No cost, high impact. #win-win.
  • Orchestrated excursions, taking 20 employees at a time on the train with me (there were a total of 450!)
  • Conducted a tour of not only their shiny new building, but organised technical folk to demonstrate the cutting-edge technology solutions.

They were like kids in a candy-store, excited and eager to explore. The first group I took sent positive shockwaves throughout the business upon their return. “Oh, it didn’t take as long as I thought it would”, “the new computers we’re getting are awesome, “the natural light in the office is spectacular”.

And then it was (nearly) smooth sailing from there… Don’t get me wrong. There were still  dissenters and naysayers. However, their numbers quickly dwindled and the ones left were no longer loud and proud.

2. 80 per cent of communication is nonverbal. So, connect in person

When working on global projects, physical meetings are a luxury. The visual cues I pick up from body language and facial expressions are important. When you’re in the room with someone, misalignment between what people say and what they really feel deep down is easily identified.

The most important thing to communicate: I’m not here to make your life hard. Truly, I just want you to be brutally honest with me. What’s working well, what’s not, what support do you need and why you’re on-board or against this initiative. When I communicate this in person, stakeholders connect with the authenticity in my eyes and the sincerity in my voice , along with the message

3. Office stalking – it’s a legit strategy!

It’s all too easy to ignore someone on the other end of a fibre optic cable. Successful change managers go above and beyond to get to the people they need to bring onside.

For example, I’ve waited for notoriously elusive stakeholders to turn “green” on messenger then made a beeline for their office. Or taken note of the time they arrive at work, order their morning coffee, take lunch, or leave for the day. Seizing these opportunities is critical. And the rapport developed in the first few minutes – in person – will serve you well for the duration of the project and beyond.

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