A Conversation About Change
JOE: Yeah, but change is hard on people, and maybe even harder on organizations. Most folks probably don’t want their jobs to change. And organizational change can cause upheavals – it’s the old “fear, uncertainty and doubt” syndrome. A lot of companies used to ply that syndrome to sell their wares – they called it the “FUD factor.” But it seems lately that people and “experts” are pushing the benefits of change.
BARBARA: Well, there’s something else, Sciulli. I’ve been reading a lot about how most organizations really aren’t built for change. They’re built on hierarchies and routines. Being nimble and having the ability to turn on a dime aren’t the strong suits of most companies, and especially government units. But the changes are coming faster and faster, and it’s becoming more difficult to catch up.
JOE: Says who?
BARBARA: Says McKinsey & Company, the management consulting firm that has been advising organizations since the 1920s. They say that most organizations are not good at coping with change. And big change programs generally have not been successful.
JOE: Yo, Bob, you led a lot of significant changes in your 22 years of running parking and transportation at UPenn and Georgia Tech. Knowing you, I find it hard to believe that you had problems implementing changes.
BOB: Well, I looked at changes as challenges, and believe me, there were many, but none too great that couldn’t be overcome with some honest dialogue, empowerment and trust in your people.
BARBARA: That’s another one of McKinsey’s points – give people responsibility for making the changes work. Did you try that, Bob?
BOB: Absolutely; and here’s a good example. The morale of the parking enforcement team at Georgia Tech was diminishing rapidly as I began implementing changes to the parking organization. The parking control officers (PCOs) enforced the rules and regulations by writing tickets, booting scofflaws, and minimizing chaos anywhere vehicles were found on campus.
And they did a real fine job at it, too. So much so, they were called “Parking Nazis” by those who chose to ignore the rules, and by others too, I suspect, but that is a story for another time.
Anyway, several of the long-term and very effective PCOs were becoming disgruntled with the fact that Parking Office staff were voiding tickets before the appeals process. They began to question why they should be writing tickets at all and taking the grief if their efforts were for naught.
After pulling the enforcement team together and listening to all their concerns, I explained to them how important their jobs were to the success of the organization. I commended them on the efficiency and thoroughness of their work. But I also explained the reasoning behind empowering the Front Office customer service staff with the ability to reduce or void parking citations on the spot, if that action resolved a valid customer complaint and if it didn’t jeopardize or call into question specific parking rules or regulations.
BARBARA: McKinsey also notes that the leader’s job is to help other people adapt to change, to try different solutions, implement them, and see if they work. Did you do that with the enforcement officers, or did they just keep doing the job the old way?
BOB: Well, I went one step further with my enforcement team by empowering them to perform their jobs differently. I encouraged them to approach potential parking violators and have a conversation with them about why they might be in violation of a parking regulation. If they were going to walk away and leave their car as it currently was parked, illegally, they were going to get a citation. I explained that a compassionate PCO who would take the time to educate a customer, rather than write a ticket, would be better received, and the rewards in terms of personal satisfaction and an improved public image for the department were benefits we could all live with.
With some apprehension at first, the PCOs accepted their challenge to change the way they performed their jobs. The morale of the enforcement unit improved. The measure of their productivity was also changed with more focus on customer service and less on the number of citations. Meeting this challenge contributed to an improved perception by the public of the parking department overall.
BARBARA: You’re bringing out another of McKinsey’s main points, Bobby – most change programs assume that all the efforts start at the top of the organization – that the top folks are the only ones who see the problems or issues. But by the time the issue reaches the director’s door, it is already late in the game. So the ability to suggest and make some changes needs to be at all levels. Every person in the organization needs to feel that he or she has a responsibility to suggest changes and improvements that are needed.
JOE: They may need to feel it, but whether it’s welcomed or not by their supervisors and managers is another thing. It’s been my experience that it’s the folks in middle management who can be the roadblocks. Especially when people hear about changes that are going to be made for the better, but things stay the same. Then look out – these folks can become jaded about the whole change process.
BOB: That’s true, Joe, but the middle managers need to have skin in the game, too. I brought my entire management team together at least twice a month to discuss current events and activities. I made sure they put their issues on the table for discussion to seek advice from others. We reviewed their goals and objectives, reported on the state of their areas, celebrated our wins, and learned from our losses, whatever they may have been. Those types of activities built trust and camaraderie among team members (all of us). They helped to keep us on the right road, and instilled a growing sense of pride in the organization.
JOE: What I’ve found is that the front line really can and will support change. And a lot of times they’re the ones calling for it. But it doesn’t get worse than being told you’re going to have a big change in your job or department, and you haven’t had a chance to learn about it, comment on it or contribute any ideas to it.
BOB: How true, “O sage of parking!” It’s just like one of our clients now who is contemplating big changes in a major function, and they are ensuring that we vet the ideas, processes, potential outcomes and solutions with the people responsible. We’ve spent a lot of time with them all along the way.
BARBARA: As we have interviewed those folks who will have to do things differently, they have been able to tell us what doesn’t work now, what they wish they could do, and what they think possible solutions are. So they are beginning to buy into the idea that significant change could be good. Change never works unless people at all levels are committed. And they won’t be committed if they don’t have a stake in the outcome and a say about the possible solutions.
BOB: Look, sometimes you really just have to be tenacious when making the case for change ... . ...
I remember a meeting I had with (a university) Executive VP and his senior staff to present a plan where the Parking Department would be compensated for the use of campus parking lots during major sporting events. Until then, the control of a significant portion of campus parking was turned over to the Athletic Department, including a substantial revenue stream.
JOE: But the Parking Department did all the work?
BOB: Oh, yes! The Parking Department sent out notifications to campus before game day, cleared the lots on game day relocating resident student permit parking to remote parking facilities, towed vehicles that didn’t comply, provided staff support for game day traffic control and parking support (staff time was reimbursed), performed post-game cleanup and any necessary repairs to parking facilities, like broken gates after a loss, and managed a public relations nightmare following each event.
BARBARA: Just another day at the office, huh, Bob? So what happened?
BOB: My case and supporting arguments were solid, and the powers-that-be were swayed but not convinced that Parking had to get a larger share of the revenue to cover all of that support. Instead, a token payment was offered. With strong arguments prepared and financial analysis in hand, and relying on my baseball training from high school that you’re not out until the third strike, I restated the case and presented a fair and more realistic compensation plan – two more times!
In the end, my persistence prevailed, the plan was accepted with some compromise, and Parking’s role in game-day parking was changed for the better, including a huge increase in parking revenue. ... You can’t try to get something done unless you have a strategy and are armed with good facts.
JOE: So what does all of this mean in the end?
BARBARA: It means that change happens, and people grow – whether they want to or not. Hopefully, they become better partners in the organization, and increase their potential and job satisfaction. They see the bigger picture, and that’s always good.
Barbara Chance is President and CEO of Chance Management Advisors (CMA) in Philadelphia. Joe Sciulli, Vice President at CMA, is a longtime Senior Operations Consultant at CMA, as is
Bob Furniss, who is retiring from the firm. The can be reached through their web site www.chancemanagement.com.