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.

A Perry Homes 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.

Ashwood Square 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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