Leading Change With You in Mind: Insights From Prosci's Executive Team
Written by Scott McAllister
At Prosci, it's safe to say we're big on the ADKAR Model as an effective framework for individual and organizational change. This means we believe in active and visible sponsorship to build Awareness of the need for change, engaging our people managers to foster Desire for change with impacted employees, and leveraging a common language for change centered on ADKAR. We also measure our firm’s success by the success of our clients, so we’re using the global pandemic to get closer to the real, implicit and explicit needs of our clients. Now more than ever, we remain committed to helping our clients manage the rapid and evolving changes we are all facing.
Managing Change in the New Reality
Scott McAllister, Chief Executive Officer
Most businesses did not anticipate a pandemic of this magnitude. As an organization focused on the people side of change, how did Prosci respond to the business disruption?
As a global business, we were monitoring the COVID-19 situation with weekly updates from Mark, who manages our global partner network, starting in January. We also discussed the potential ripple effects on our clients and business with our board in mid-February.
Our values are the only real non-negotiables at Prosci, and we have put them front and center to help us navigate the impacts of the pandemic. We’re deeply committed to sustaining a culture where everyone feels valued and excited about the work we do and the difference we make. With this in mind, we took a firm stance on making the health and well-being of employees our top priority, followed closely by a commitment to keep our customers safe.
COVID-19 introduced countless unforeseen issues to resolve quickly. We intentionally shifted our operating cadence to enhance rapid problem-solving and amplify communications, both internally with employees and externally with clients. Leveraging our research on what drives change success, we implemented a structure to drive collaboration with intentional space to address the people side of change. This included the following adaptations to our operating cadence:
Daily sponsor stand-up with our global executive team (new as of early March).
Daily operations stand-up with people managers and key stakeholders across our value streams (begun in late February).
Bi-weekly meetings we call the "Manager Mind Meld" with our people managers (twice the usual frequency, starting in March).
Bi-weekly, all-company, global business updates (twice the usual frequency, starting mid-March).
Even when organizational changes meet technical requirements and milestones, they can still fail to deliver results and benefits. What’s missing? Change management. You can start applying change management to your projects today with free resources from Prosci.
How did Prosci values factor into the decision to pivot to virtual, instructor-led delivery of training programs?
We began investing in an initiative to amplify our organizational agility in 2017, which included efforts to develop virtual training offerings. Before Prosci provided change management training of any kind, our founder Jeff Hiatt challenged us to not only provide great training but also create an unforgettable client experience. Today, Experience remains a value pillar—and we designed our virtual, instructor-led training (VILT) programs with that same commitment. Instead of responding to the pandemic with a virtual offering, we challenged ourselves to leapfrog the industry standard and bring forward a virtual learning experience that is uniquely Prosci.
Excellence is another Prosci value, which means we can always be improving. In addition to applying more than 15 years of experience facilitating high-impact webinars, we have made countless improvements in our virtual delivery with weekly, closed-loop learning cycles that included (and continue to include) customer feedback. Multiple clients have told us our VILT programs are the best trainings they have ever experienced, regardless of delivery modality. I am immensely proud of the quality of the virtual learning experience we’re providing clients. The blood, sweat and tears we poured into the effort has been well worth the investment.
What challenges are other C-level executives sharing when it comes to leading an organization at this time?
Most leaders we’re working with are looking for actionable insights to be better sponsors of radical and often involuntary change. Upon much reflection, I believe great leaders separate themselves from the rest by role modeling strong sponsorship in times of change. Our two decades of research informs a perspective that effective sponsorship requires remaining active and visible throughout changes, building strong coalitions of support for the changes, and communicating directly with impacted employees in a candid, authentic manner. At Prosci, we refer to these behaviors as the ABCs of effective sponsorship, and they feel more relevant than ever today.
"Every leader has had to adapt to a slew of involuntary changes from COVID-19. Now that we’ve worked through the “shock and awe” phase of the pandemic, which was largely fueled by adrenaline, we’re figuring out how to navigate the discomfort of a new reality. Every organization is looking to their leadership to role model strong sponsorship of change, now more than ever."
– Scott McAllister
Tim Creasey, Chief Innovation Officer
As the industry thought leader in change management, how has Prosci responded to the needs of individuals and organizations around the world in this new reality?
Prosci has responded in several ways. First, we are helping change agents understand the landscape as they work through changes forced upon them in what I call the “involuntary digital transformation.” This, along with the changes coming as organizations step back into the workplace and begin to re-imagine themselves. Second, we are offering our competency-building solutions remotely to empower change practitioners and individuals throughout their organizations. This pivot has been monumental and taxing, but we anchored it with the transformation experience we’re known for, and the feedback has been fantastic and humbling. Finally, we have pulled together the change management community to aim its collective genius at some of the most common change challenges organizations are facing during the crisis. This promoted sharing and strengthened our community, while enabling us to create practical, actionable Quick-Start Guides.
We’ve heard you use the phrase “top of mind, not top priority.” What do you mean by this?
The nature and pace of change right now has made alignment across teams essential. When the timing of a message I sent to a team member was interpreted as urgent, the “misalignment” made me realize I needed a way to signal that, “just because this is what I’m thinking about right now doesn’t mean you need to re-prioritize your work.” I started using “top of mind, not top priority” to lead off emails, and promote alignment and shared priorities while reducing unintended consequences.
How do you see the COVID-19 pandemic impacting Prosci over the long term with regard to innovation and continued leadership in the change management discipline?
The Prosci development cycle comprises 1) attunement to our market and clients, 2) industry-leading research, 3) actionable insights, 4) elegant simplicity, and 5) capability-empowering offerings.
I see the approach continuing to work well and perhaps even more effectively in today’s environment. What has changed is the speed at which we and our clients are moving through the cycle as we navigate the ever-changing transition state toward the still-unknown future state. Prosci has ramped up this cycle to ensure that our connections to and solutions for our clients are stronger than ever. I expect to see our closeness with clients continue to grow in the long term.
Michelle Haggerty, Chief Operating Officer
COVID-19 forced every organization into a new work-from-home operating model. How did Prosci respond given the nature of the change and your leadership role in change management?
When the need for change is very clear and people understand why change is necessary, you can mobilize quickly. Prosci acted very swiftly. From day one we were very clear about why changing to a work-from-home operating model was needed: putting employee health and safety first was our priority. That would then enable us to support client success and maintain a successful business.
As an organization, we also prioritize work-life balance. We had already invested in providing employees the tools, resources and clarity needed for working remotely. Leveraging Microsoft Teams and other tools, we were able to shift into a 100% virtual working environment fairly easily. We also elevated connection points through weekly team meetings, weekly cross-functional stand-ups, and bi-weekly meetings with executive leadership to support connection, clarity and transparency. In fact, leading with transparency has long been a focus of our executive leadership team. We strongly believe that proactively providing as much information as possible helps reduce fear and increase engagement.
"A company must fully understand and support customer needs to properly prioritize operationally. With client success in mind, we knew our business model and offerings needed to shift rapidly to meet the shifting needs of our clients. We started by reaching out to them, asking about the challenges they're facing, and then using that information to inform our direction and response." — Michelle Haggerty
Mark Dorsett, Executive Vice President of Global Business
How do you see your global role as you connect and support Prosci’s partners around the world during the pandemic? What is different now?
My role and Prosci's is to help our partners through the transition and prepare them to meet their client needs in the best way possible. Our four-part strategy included equipping partners with:
Guidance and examples on how to deliver programs virtually. We demonstrated this to partners in live sessions, so they could see what program delivery should look and feel like, and we updated our partner portal to dedicate specific sections to the virtual program modality.
Updated and optimized content and tools for virtual delivery.
Dedicated practice sessions for each partner instructor, offering real-time feedback. This was a big investment for both parties, but client feedback shows it was worth it.
Updated program material in many languages for partner use on their digital platforms.
As for differences, our program content and sequence remain the same for training practitioners, sponsors, managers, and those impacted by change. But there has been room for tailoring the experience to local norms. This includes presenting content in local languages, utilizing instructors who speak those languages and have cultural experience, and changing program start times and breaks for lunch to match local customs. We have also found that different partners prefer different delivery applications, including Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Adobe Connect, GoToTraining and WebEx. We set up our programs so each of these can be utilized.
How are clients and customers of Prosci’s global partners responding to the shift to virtual delivery?
In nearly every market, they started out with a wait-and-see approach but eventually realized that COVID-19 is going to be here a while, and they have changes they need to work on. Some view virtual programs as inferior but have seen positive comments about Prosci's Virtual Change Management Certification Program and want to learn more. Then they try it and the results exceed their expectations.
There are places in our global network where the move to virtual work was not as smooth. In these cases, people were accustomed to working on desktop computers in their places of work and did not have laptops. They live in small residences, often with multiple people, and have inconsistent internet connectivity and speed. In these situations, the ability to take VILT is significantly hampered. However, in the vast majority of places, VILT has gone exceptionally well. In fact, our VILT Change Management Certification Program was taught on six continents during the last week of April and first week in May.
Interestingly, the pandemic has not slowed the growth in awareness of the value of change management. Globally, there are many articles, blogs and podcasts on how organizations need to adapt their work patterns, use of digital technology, and the ways they interact with their customers and suppliers as a result of this situation. Nearly all these messages stress the need to focus on adoption and support through the transition—truly the value of change management.
"One of the messages I stress to clients and leaders across the globe is that the transition is not done. There will be a transition for many months to come as we adapt to the next phase together." – Mark Dorsett
Preparing for a Better Future
From our research and field work, we know that all change is an individual experience. Leaders must come to grips with the fact that the better we prepare, equip and support our people through change, the more successful we will be. That’s true now as well as in the future when, hopefully, COVID-19 is no longer the primary change we’re all dealing with. As always, we will continue to look for ways to bring clients together, actively listen to your needs, and give our all to address them with innovative change management solutions.