Planning for Change

Organizations & People

“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
– Henry David Thoreau

 

Leaders Reflect on Successfully Steering Through Change

Implementing companywide change can be nerve-wracking, even for seasoned leaders, because there is a lot that can go wrong. From maintaining company culture to supporting teams and boosting morale, there are a lot of factors to consider during times of change. Here, local leaders reflect on the times that they have successfully lead through change and what they learned in the process.

craig fuller

Craig Fuller

Founder & CEO, FreightWaves

Tell us about a companywide change you’ve implemented.

We went fully remote in 2020, then we had to decide whether we would embrace remote work. We had to figure out how to keep our company culture, which is full of creativity and intellectual energy, while also opening ourselves up to a nationwide pool of talent that could take our team to the next level.

How can leaders mitigate risks during companywide changes?

The biggest risk is that if senior leadership and middle management don’t follow through with ‘change management,’ it won’t truly be a companywide change. You risk losing the great aspects of what you had before the change without fully capitalizing on the advantages of doing things in the new way. Employees can tell when changes are handed down half-heartedly and then neglected or forgotten about, and it’s demoralizing. Senior leaders owe it to everyone at the company to fully commit themselves, stay engaged, work through the whole process, and demonstrate that they truly care about the people they’re asking to change.

How do you know when a change has been successful?

How you know whether a change has been successful greatly depends on the specific change you’re trying to make, but in general, the criteria for success should be defined at the very beginning of the process, and indeed it should be part of the reason for making the change in the first place. In other words, if we’re making a change to accomplish x, y, and z, then we have to track progress toward x, y, and z continually.

The criteria for success are bound up with the reasons for making the changes in the first place, but how you get there – the new solutions, ways of working, and initiatives that are necessary to realize that success – may not be obvious to leadership at the beginning of the process.

How do you navigate unforeseen roadblocks during change?

Unforeseen roadblocks and obstacles will always emerge, and the more ambitious and thorough the change you have in mind is, the more time you will spend grappling with unexpected challenges. It’s key to have processes in place – whether those are regularly scheduled meetings, or dedicated teams with defined goals, or a repeating cadence of measurement and evaluation – so when these things occur, there are people waiting and ready for them. Companywide changes are ongoing, iterative processes, and you have to have people in position who can adapt and overcome as the process unfolds. 

Do you have any form of support system in place that allows you to do what you do?

From the start, I have relied on business growth through word of mouth and building relationships rather than from a marketing or online approach. It takes more time, but generally has kept my schedule filled with the work I love to do and the people I love to work for.

Hamilton Healthcare System Ad

lesley scearce

Lesley Scearce

President & CEO, United Way of Greater Chattanooga

Tell us about a companywide change you’ve implemented.

When I joined the team as CEO in 2015, we saw the need to approach growing community problems in a new, bold, and more collaborative way. Through an intentional process with our original partners, volunteers, and the nonprofits in our community, we switched to an open, competitive, and inclusive funding model that now gives any 501(c)(3) in our region the opportunity to receive United Way funding. The ultimate goal was to get closer to those who are impacted by the decisions we make with our dollars, create measurable impact, and bridge the gap of opportunity for those we serve. Simply put, United Way of Greater Chattanooga went from a community chest to a community change agent.

What was the most rewarding aspect of implementing this change for you?

Meaningful collaboration and truly united work. It was such an empowering process to work arm-in-arm with partners who had been funded for decades but jumped right in to make a better way. The process wasn’t perfect, but the partnerships at the time made the learning so worthwhile.

How can leaders inspire their teams to get on board with changes?

Figure out what the greatest pain points in the change will be early, and then map out specific actions to help overcome them. Be clear about who the change is for, what the benefit is, how measurable it will be, what resources are needed, how long it will take, and who your greatest opponents might be (I call them “those who just don’t know yet”). This is so important because addressing challenges early builds trust.

Any tips for managing customer/stakeholder relations during change?

Be simple, clear, and consistent. Have advocates besides the CEO who will join you in communicating about the change to lean on established relationship. 

How do you navigate unforeseen roadblocks during change?

At United Way we have a core value of Own It – which means you take accountability for your own actions, which builds trust, and then you move on. You can’t get stuck on your mistakes or blind spots as a leader.

What advice would you give new leaders about leading through change?

Find three to four people who will tell you the truth no matter what and let them act as a mirror to you. Tell them you’re asking them to take that role and that you’re going to check in with them, and then thank them even when what they tell you is hard to hear.

5090 South Web Ad

greg vital

Greg A. Vital

President, Morning Pointe Senior Living

Tell us about a companywide change you’ve implemented.

There was a defining moment early on in our company when we made the bold decision to expand the direction of Morning Pointe Senior Living, allocating more resources and expanding our healthcare service lines. With only a dozen associates at the time, (over 25 years ago), we transitioned from solely building and managing senior living properties to fully developing and operating our own senior living company, building a brand. That marked the birth of Morning Pointe Senior Living. It was a mission-focused decision, driven by our desire to create a better quality of life for seniors across the Southeast and control outcomes.

What was the most rewarding aspect of implementing this change for you?

The opportunity to create the Morning Pointe brand and have a full impact on the lives of seniors and their families daily. By building and operating our own senior living communities, we could directly shape the care, services, and overall experience provided. Additionally, the change allowed us to create more solid jobs and career opportunities for dedicated and compassionate individuals who also wanted to make a difference.

How can leaders mitigate risks during companywide changes?

The biggest risk to any companywide initiative is the disruption to our existing model of operations and the quality of our services. To mitigate such risks, I would do several things. First, conduct a comprehensive impact analysis to understand the effects on key aspects of the company. Secondly, develop a plan of action including a rollout schedule with timelines, key talking points, and steps to ensure accountability. Next, over-communicate the strategy and always reinforce what makes your company stand out – the brand.

Additionally, provide a thorough training program to all associates involved in executing the change. Finally, maintain open lines for feedback through the entire process and be ready to easily pivot to address new concerns and issues. And don’t forget to report back on all outcomes and celebrate your success.

What advice would you give new leaders about leading through change?

Cultivate a growth mindset culture and be open to learning from success and failure. Embrace challenges as opportunities. Build strong relationships with your team and foster trust and collaboration. By listening, empowering, and supporting your team, you can drive change and achieve shared goals. Of course, it all comes down to communication. Clearly articulating the vision, objectives, and expectation to your team and actively listening to their input and concerns will help build alignment and empower future leaders.

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mitch patel

Mitch Patel

President & CEO, Vision Hospitality Group

Tell us about a companywide change you’ve implemented.

In 2013, we had 12 hotels under development, which represented a tremendous amount of growth over a very short period. Recognizing the need to reinvest in our corporate infrastructure, we set out to create and fill key leadership positions in the company. This was intended to facilitate our imminent growth needs as well as lay the foundation for future growth.

What was the most rewarding aspect of implementing this change for you?

Seeing the company successfully scale up while maintaining the integrity of our service culture.

How can leaders mitigate risks during companywide changes?

As Peter Drucker famously said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and we fervently believe that. We are in the service business over the real estate business, so it was imperative that our service culture was protected, nurtured, and cultivated.

What should leaders keep in mind during times of change?

Culture, culture, culture. Companywide change should be strategic and driven by culture. Culture is a company’s mission, the raison d’être, so if there is a need for a companywide change, it must stem from, and adhere to, the corporate culture.

Any tips for managing customer/stakeholder relations during change?

I sincerely believe that you can’t over-communicate. We are in constant contact with our stakeholders and ensure they are informed of any companywide changes that might affect them.

How do you navigate unforeseen roadblocks during change?

The biggest roadblock we have ever experienced was during COVID-19, when the lodging industry experienced a loss of revenue greater than 50%. We worked with our internal teams, peers in the industry, government leaders, and industry groups to find real-time solutions for running a hotel during a pandemic. It was the most harrowing time our industry has ever experienced, but by coming together, staying true to our culture, and putting people first, we were able to successfully navigate that crisis and come out on the other side a stronger, more resilient company.

What advice would you give new leaders about leading through change?

Those who are new to a leadership role are there because somebody believed in them, and so they need to believe in themselves. Be confident, lead by example, and show others why the change is necessary and how it enhances the culture.

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Planning for Change

“There is nothing like a concrete life plan to weigh you down. Because if you always have one eye on some future goal, you stop paying attention to the job at hand, miss opportunities that might arise, and stay fixedly on one path, even when a better, newer course might have opened up.”


– Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO

General Motors CEO Mary Barra recently said, “We are in the midst of seeing more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last 50 years.”  According to Yale professor Richard Foster, the average lifetime of a company listed in the S&P 500 has shortened by more than 50 years in the last century: from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today. Today’s rate of change “is at a faster pace than ever,” Foster says.
With this rapid rate of change, how do companies plan for the future? Creating long-range strategic plans has long been an essential part of responsible leadership, but in this age, how relevant is the typical five-year business plan? Some leaders have argued that being nimble and adaptable is more important, while others have argued that long-term business planning just needs to be implemented differently, with flexibility in mind. We asked local leaders to weigh in on the discussion and offer their expertise on how to balance long-term planning with the need for constant flexibility.

PlanningForChange.McGill


Andrew McGill


Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning/
Business Development, CHI Memorial

CS When and how do you develop your longer-term plans?

AM We recently adopted a new strategic plan that will be implemented over the next three to five years. The plan will be our guidepost during that time, but we know circumstances will change and technology will evolve. We need to be mindful of what’s happening around us, in our community, and tweak that plan accordingly.

CS How would you describe your approach to changes that may
impact your plan?

AM The challenge is to put the plan into action without getting needlessly distracted, and respond appropriately when changes are needed. You can’t ignore a major community event that impacts your plan, but you need to be smart about staying on track and making adjustments around the edges as needed.

CS How and when do you adjust plans to meet changing market conditions?

AM We continually monitor our progress toward achieving the goals and how we are measuring against the markers we set. We look at what we’ve done and what we need to do to complete the task, then make adjustments along the way.

PlanningForChange.Horton


Duane Horton


Owner & Executive Vice President of GenTech Construction; President of Scenic Land Company, LLC; President of Scenic Land Investments, LLC; and Scenic Land Investments 2017, LLC.

CS How would you describe your planning process for the current
year and longer-term?

DH Our planning process remains consistently flexible from year to year. We frequently have more opportunities than resources available. This requires tremendous agility. Over the years, we have learned to adapt to shifting industrial circumstances, from labor and material costs to consumer and commercial demand. Most importantly, rather than having annual goals for sales or project starts, for example, our planning process is focused on the qualitative value we believe we are adding to the Chattanooga area. This approach allows us to focus first on what resources we have available or may be able to add. We then focus on the best opportunities available that provide the highest and best use of those resources.

CS When and how do you develop your longer-term plans? How far out do you plan?

DH Because of the nature of our work, we must keep one eye on the present and the other on the years to come. Our market tends to go through cycles every five to ten years. While it is impossible to predict the exact time or changes in these cycles, we are often able to be aware of where we are in the cycle and to adjust or make plans as the cycle changes. While the timing of the market cycles can vary, I have yet to experience or read in modern history where the market cycle did not flow in the same order from one phase to the next.

CS How would you describe your approach to changes that may impact your plan?

DH Changes in the plan must be part of the plan. We have developed a culture where all parties are both encouraged to adhere to the plan as much as possible, but they must also react and adjust appropriately. They must accurately share adjustments with all parties involved. This is critical in maintaining a healthy and stable organization. In our organization, stability through flexibility is balanced with dependability and thoughtfulness.


Photo by Lanewood Studio

PlanningForChange.Espeseth


Katie Espeseth


Vice President of New Products, EPB

CS How would you describe your planning process for the current year and longer-term?

KE I think it’s important to be flexible enough to blend planning processes. My personal style is more directional and detailed, but I start with a vision that includes a clear statement of what success looks like to provide the firm foundation for those creating necessary tactical plans.

CS When and how do you develop your longer-term plans? How far out do you plan?

KE We work as a team to develop our longer-term plans that may cover three, five, or even ten years. Those formal discussions take place at least annually, but are revisited often if there are shifts in market conditions. Senior leadership meets weekly for discussions that often include adjustments to plans as a result of a changing market environment.

CS When do you review progress against your operating plan and longer-term plans?

KE We formally evaluate our progress against our plans at least twice annually. Our business runs on constantly changing data, so we’re continually evaluating not only our performance, but also market conditions, in some cases on a daily basis. 

CS How would you describe your approach to changes that may impact your plan?

KE I think steady progress is a worthy approach, but we always want to guard against becoming complacent and misreading market signals. Technology is changing so rapidly, we always have to be flexible and willing to adjust our plans.

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Terry Hart


CEO, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport


CS How would you describe your planning process?

TH We do both annual and long-term planning. The annual planning is framed around the year-to-year budget and includes projected growth, infrastructure improvements and expansions, and new air service recruitment.

CS When and how do you develop your longer-term plans? How far out do you plan?

TH As far as long-term planning, we are required by the FAA to update our master plan every 10 years which is a process we are going through this year.

CS Who is involved in your long-term planning?

TH We use a process to short list and select a master planning consultant. We also involve our architect and engineering firm, marketing communications, our board of directors, staff, elected officials, and public at large. It is a very detailed community-wide participatory process.

CS How often do you review progress against your operating plan and longer-term plans?

TH We are constantly reviewing and adjusting the operations of the airport based on planned growth and some unforeseen scenarios that are normal in an ever-changing industry like ours.

CS How do you adjust plans to meet changing market conditions?

TH We can move very quickly when we have to. For example, we may have to plan accordingly if we are in the process of securing new air service, but our staff is small, making it easy to communicate adjustments throughout the organization.

Engagement.Long


Darde Long


President & CEO, Chattanooga Zoo

CS How would you describe your planning process?

DL Planning at the Zoo is a team project and an ongoing one. We typically work with outside consultants for five-year plans, and we create both a business plan and a facilities plan. The business plan is more detailed and numerical, while the facilities plan is for future physical developments and is more visionary. We also do an Institutional Collection Plan, which helps determine what species we want to hold in our living collection.

CS When and how do you develop your longer-term plans?

DL Overall plans are completed with the assistance of consultants and typically span five years. Internal planning for departments is done annually and includes the budgeting process.

CS Who is involved in your planning process?

DL Members of the Zoo Leadership Team, and  we usually work with firms or individuals that specialize in zoo planning.

CS How would you describe your approach to changes that may impact your plan?

DL I would say our approach to changes in the plans we make is dynamic. Animals may or may not be available when we want them, weather is a huge factor in our revenue production, and fundraising is always a determining factor.


Photo by Stephanie Whiting

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Katie Reinsmidt


Chief Investment Officer, CBL Properties

CS How would you describe your planning process?

KR One of life’s certainties is that things will never go according to plan. Despite this inevitability, long-term strategic planning remains a critical control for any successful business. While it is important to also maintain flexibility, it’s imperative to keep broader goals in focus so decisions are not reactionary or short-sighted.        

CS When and how do you develop your longer-term plans? How far out do you plan?

KR We start the year reflecting on the previous year’s successes, failures, and lessons learned and discuss opportunities and challenges that we see ahead. Our strategic business plans focus on our aspirational vision for the future state of the organization and then break down to smaller, achievable guideposts for the near-term.    

CS What types of information or experts do you consult?

KR We’ve used discussion facilitators, strategic consultants, and speakers from other industries to help inspire free thinking and foster new ideas.

CS When do you review progress against your operating plan and longer-term plans?

KR Our broader strategic goals are always in mind and we use our short-term goals as benchmarks to measure progress or determine if changes are needed along the way. 

CS How and when do you adjust plans to meet changing market conditions? How is this done and how is it communicated to others in your organization?

KR Business can evolve quickly. While an ideal world would provide the time and resources to research and thoroughly plan out every contingency, the reality is that it is important to be flexible and realize you can’t plan for everything. We have multiple formal communication methods such as staff meetings, town halls, and emails as well as less formal channels including our internal social media platform.

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