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We've Always Done It That Way! Thoughts on Change

dice spelling out the word change Change is easy to spell, but hard to manage.

In many of the positions I've been in, I've been an agent for change. I've been working on bringing either technology or structure into the workplace to make things run more efficiently.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard these words:

But we've always done it that way!

I get it! Change is hard! Sometimes adding tech to the work place means using new things and teaching the ol' brain new tricks.  And even making things easier for the team is harder in the beginning because the old ways are so ingrained that it can seem more difficult.  And now more than ever, our multifamily teams are exhausted by change because all we've done in the past three years is change policies, change procedures, change laws, change our social lives and support systems, change the way we talk to our friends, family, bosses, and moms!  I had to Facetime with my ma during the pandemic! (I was super proud of her tech skills, even though I spent most of the time looking at the coo-coo clock over her head).

We're tired of change, but it's one of the only guarantees in life.  If you are in a position, like me, where you are working on changes in an organization, here are some things I found helpful in my long journey of implementing changes in a business.

Change is always going to have push back 

In fact, there's a known cycle that you should expect

  • Denial - People refuse to accept that change is happening.  
  • Resistance -  As a person leading the change, you have to understand that the expertise that your team has developed on the current process is being undermined, and a lot of emotions can come with that. I find irritation and a lot of complaining focused on me (the change perpetrator) at this point.
  • Exploration and Learning - This is when it starts getting fun!  People accept the change and start exploring and asking questions about what is going on. If you listen carefully, you'll get a lot of good feed back on refining processes when people get to this stage because they are implementing the change, they are thinking about how it affects their work, and they want to make it even better.
  • Commitment - You finally get everyone onboard, and they start to develop the expertise on the new process/tech that helps them become advocates and teachers for you, and the workplace becomes productive and positive again.

What leaders can do

There are things that leaders can do to help change be less painful in their organizations, although you should always expect a little pain with every change. It's like starting a new work-out routine; you find muscles you've never felt before.  You might become aware of problems you've not seen because your new process shines a light on certain performances.  Take these steps to help you and your teams acclimate to new changes.

  1. Maintain the Long View:  You've done the work to make the change.  You've committed to it. DO NOT let the nay-saying, the denial and the resistance sway your commitment to the change.  If it is the wrong decision, then that is a subject for a different set of thoughts. But in general, you've thought about this decision, you've taken steps to implement the change, and you need to keep your eyes future focused so that you can keep the ship sailing toward the new horizon.
  2. Listen:  Even though it is sometimes painful to hear how (and I'm sorry there's no other word for this) whiny that grown-up employees can be about a change, no matter how small, your job is to listen.  Listen especially for real concerns - although they will be buried in tiny objections, obstacles, and whining.
  3. Over Communicate: You think you can roll out a change with an email.  WRONG.  Communicate changes and updates more thoroughly than a dog licking a bowl of gravy clean.  If possible, before starting the change, explain why you are making the change and how the change will be implemented.  Give updates on delays so that people don't think it's just been forgotten. I know you've heard "we're supposed to be getting new software, but I don't know when," when speaking with onsite employees.  They should know when the change will happen and if when changes, communicate that to your team.  Hold more town halls than you think you should to talk about and hype up changes, and leave yourself more time for training than you think you should.  Even easy changes to operations still require multiple training sessions to stick, because you are changing habits. And, as with any decision that you make, communicate the "why" to your team.
  4. Assess and Analyze:  Set Key Performance Indicators for your change and make sure that you are watching to see what happens.  Gather feedback from the employees and continue to refine processes.  In property management, I find that people implementing the changes don't do the work. You've bought a new CRM but you haven't experienced the daily grind of dealing with prospects and how easy or challenging it is with this new system.  It's important to listen to the people who use the process or technology the most to see what improvements can be made based on how they use it.  They have to be comfortable giving feedback, and many many people will work with broken systems for YEARS without reporting them because they don't know who to tell or how, but that's another subject for a different set of thoughts. Be careful to get through the whiny phase first, but then start to listen to what good employees are saying. 

These thoughts started during 2020 when every day our worlds changed, and while things are more stable now, technology and business move so quickly that we mere humans have a hard time keeping up.  Making sure that your company has change management procedures can help you and your team become more agile and flexible. One of the first changes I recommend that you make as a leader is to write a change management playbook.  This helps you build a structure that you can communicate to everyone on how changes will happen in the organization. I'm not recommending that you have plan for changing your socks, but you should have a plan for changing the way an entire department works.  Communication during change is crucial, and having a guide and standards for it makes sure that you and your team don't forget to do it!



This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great post, Donje! I am also a big fan of over communicating as it relates to change management.

  Stephanie Oehler
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you Stephanie! Missed you at AOD! Hope you are feeling better and we'll see you in April!

  Donje Putnam
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This is a fantastic article Donje! You're right that there are stages to change and I love the idea of a change management playbook to make the stages smoother and the change overall easier to accept!

  Lilah Poltz
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Thank you!! I've recently been working on an escalation playbook - how to seek out help when you need it. I think it helps team members be more comfortable reporting things when they know who to talk to.

  Donje Putnam
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Great article & spot on!!

  Laura Bruyere
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Thanks Laura!

  Donje Putnam

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