The Cohen-Miller Report: Change Management

by Emily Cohen

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that a growing number of in-house creative team leaders and managers work reactively when dealing with changes. This is especially true in hiring, organizational and operational areas, where changes are required to grow/compress a team, streamline processes or add new technology. Often, in-house creative managers are simply accommodating the existing corporate culture as well as the limited attention span and focus at the executive leadership level. Corporate cultures are driven by fast-turnaround and an overall lack of planning and patience. Additionally, a kind of “Corporate Attention Deficit Disorder”(CADD) exists, where executive leadership changes their priorities, organizational models and reporting structures frequently; often without the necessary planning to ensure corporate-wide acceptance and a seamless transition process. CADD evolves in a corporate culture of over-committed and reduced resources and is nurtured within an environment where meetings and virtual communications are excessive and non-productive. This reactionary, unplanned management strategy becomes habit-forming and infects the corporate culture.

Executive-level urgencies often overshadow otherwise important department-level initiatives. While in-house managers start out with the best of intentions, their focus slowly devolves into a reactive management style where they get caught in the web of simply responding to the latest corporate-, organizational-, process- or client-driven urgency. This results in a lack of focus on big-picture planning. Few department-level managers or leaders are able to concentrate on one specific issue for more than a few minutes without interruption. These interruptions require that the manager drop everything else and are driven from the top-down based on corporate-level urgencies and initiatives.

One clear example of reactive change management is in the hiring practices of in-house teams. In the current economic climate, resources are already stretched thin and hiring is often responsive and unplanned. Many of our clients reactively hire for the short-term, without thinking of the new hire’s exact responsibilities or their long-term fit, based on planned or forecasted workload. What results is a hire that is often set up for failure, as they assume a role without clear definition of what they will be doing (other than putting out the current fire) and who they should collaborate and interact with. While they may fit in the short term, their role or skill set may not fit the ultimate long-term needs of the department, thus critical head count resources are squandered on the wrong hire.

Another example of reactive change management is in the area of procurement and implementation of much-needed workflow management technology. We’ve seen many departments invest in a complex workflow technology, without conducting the due diligence in:

  • defining clear, detailed technology requirements
  • researching a wide range of competitive options
  • testing the various options (not just falling for the sales spiel from the technology’s sales teams or literature)
  • developing a thorough implementation and training program.

What results is an expensive technology tool that is not used to its fullest or, worse, an overly cumbersome system that is never used at all.

So, what is the solution? How do you implement changes in a reactive culture? In working with many in-house creative departments we recommend the following ten strategies:

  1. Take Small Bites – don’t make changes that are too drastic for your culture or resources; ensure small, yet impactful quick wins and changes that can grow or expand over time
  2. Slow down – do not to be infected by the reactionary culture
  3. Evaluate – conduct a thorough internal assessment of the specific objectives and needs that will be achieved by the change – consider both short- and long- term needs
  4. Define – develop supporting documentation to support/define the change (e.g. detailed job descriptions, revised organizational structure, technology requirements documentation)
  5. Prioritize – prioritize your needs (what are most important & least?)
  6. Research – don’t make an immediate decision, conduct all necessary due-diligence
  7. Plan – develop realistic plans and timelines to ensure successful implementation (e.g. on-boarding/training programs or workshops)
  8. Allocate Time/Resources – make sure you have executive level support and their commitment to dedicate enough budget, time and staff to implement the change
  9. Engage – don’t sell or force your changes onto your team but include your entire staff, even juniors, in the process; form and empower internal teams to implement and own each change, distribute responsibilities and measure everyone’s performance related to their impact on change-management
  10. Be Patient – change takes time, don’t’ give up and stick with it

Ultimately, while CADD is not necessarily curable, the above strategies will help you make changes that can successfully alleviate the symptoms!

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