12 April 2023 |

The only constant is change

By Gabrielle "GB" Blackwell

One of the most essential, yet challenging capabilities a manager can master is managing change and supporting our teams through that process. THEE hardest kind of change to manage IMO is changes in expectations.

It’s like as soon as you get into a groove with your team, senior management just can’t help but implement something new that wipes out your team’s sense of morale and shifts their focus off course. Maybe this shows up as going after an unproven market, rolling out a new commission plan, changing promotion eligibility, or some kind of budget +/or hiring freeze.

If you find yourself confronted with these kinds of situations, you’re probably very familiar with how difficult it is to get your team to commit to expectations they didn’t willingly sign up for.

To help your team through these kinds of changes, you’ll need to:

  1. Provide the toolset your reps will need to effectively cope with change.
  2. Put the change into perspective for your people.
  3. Consistently encourage and inspire the members of your team.
  4. Tap into teamwork to make the dream work.

Provide the toolset to cope with change

Without managing focus, reps can easily become distracted, and without appropriate remediation, that distracted employee can easily transform into a disgruntled employee.

To avoid feeling the burn of change-induced rep dissatisfaction, have your reps recognize which concerns of theirs are things that they can control or influence.

Rules of engagement, territory changes, promotion eligibility, hiring freezes – these are all things that reps may be concerned about, but have no control over. The more time they spend focusing on things outside of their control, the less likely they’ll be able to adapt effectively. 

As a manager, you’ll need to coach your reps to recognize what actions and activities they have control over that will help them succeed in the new world of change. Continue to reinforce this focus until your reps have successfully been able to adapt.

Put things into perspective

Once upon a time I introduced a new territory model to a team of reps I had inherited. As I wrapped up the presentation, one of my reps closed their laptop and shouted, “I HATE THIS!”. For the next few days, my reps gave me the silent treatment except to voice their dead set lack of faith in my new plan.

Thankfully, I had a mentor at the organization who helped me successfully navigate getting my reps bought into the new plan. This mentor reminded me how pretty much every interview includes the question ‘tell me about a time a company implemented something you didn’t agree with. What was the change? How did you respond?’. 

My mentor stressed the importance of letting my team know there’ll be opportunities reps will really want in the future. The change I was asking them to adjust to could be the difference maker between successfully answering that interview question, or dropping the ball and missing out.

By bringing the change into perspective and framing it as an opportunity to explore their growth edges and ability to adapt rather than something to be afraid of, the reps slowly but surely began to embrace the changes more. The cherry on top of this change process was seeing the reps who were the most staunchly opposed to the new plan achieve significantly higher attainment after the changes were implemented.

Assist: The ‘there’ll be opportunities in the future where this change will get your ready for’ talk track doesn’t always hit the mark with reps. If you’ve used this message and your team is still openly expressing opposition, I’d recommend reminding your team of how you’re goaled and compensated. Assuming your variable compensation is based on your team’s performance, you can use a talk track like “your success comes way before mine does, so I’m incentivized to make sure whatever change we implement, that it’s a change where both you and I can be successful. You’re not alone in this.”

Be a source of inspiration

Change isn’t easy, especially for reps.

They likely have found ways of being successful and gotten into a rhythm. Then wham, bam, no thank you ma’am, they’re being asked to perform at the same level without the assurance that things will work well for them. If your team is being asked to do things they’ve never done before, recognize the important role you play in encouraging and inspiring them. 

Reflect back to your reps how they’ve been successful in the past, the progress they’ve made, and how they’ve been able to find a way through tough times before the changes were implemented. This can look like reminding your reps of challenges they’ve overcome at work, or providing affirmative feedback about what they’re doing well.

Teamwork makes the dream work

One of the most underutilized levers to pull when it comes to managing change is the reps themselves. A great manager will bring the team together and facilitate brainstorming sessions on how to find successes, no matter how big or small. A great manager will also be able to identify who the change agents of the team are – the ones who are solution oriented and highly motivated to achieve, regardless of the circumstances – to test out new approaches and bring back those learnings to the team. 

Wrapping it up

The more that the manager can involve the team in a way forward while empowering them to own what is in their control and influence, the more effective the manager will be in successfully navigating the humps and lumps of change.
This work of getting the team focused also lays the groundwork for cultivating an environment of growth and development. Be sure to tune into next week’s issue where we’ll be exploring what managers can do to develop coaching and growth plans for their reps!