Managing Change: Lessons Learned From Top Companies

Profitable companies must keep changing for continued success. Sometimes it is unexpected, sometimes it is necessary. To maintain normalcy during periods of change, employees look to their leaders for guidance. The key is to get leadership on board with the change and establish methods for helping their teams handle the change. Leaders must possess certain qualities for a smooth transition and to keep momentum in the workplace.

Navigating change is difficult; even the best ideas will fail if they are not adapted correctly. Here are the top three companies that implemented major changes and what we can learn from their successes and failures.


Alphabet is now the parent company of Google and is run by Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The restructure came so that the Google search engine could remain focused on its original mission to organize the world’s information. Among the companies now under Alphabet are the collection of ventures Brin and Page have delved into, including Google, Calico (their quest to cure death) and Nest Labs.

Given that this was a restructuring of a major organization, leaders should have minimized uncertainty among their employees. Instead, they shocked their employees and the world at the same time when Larry Page published a blog post on Google+. They did not give their employees much warning, and it brought the workday to a halt as everyone from interns to senior engineers reeled at the news.

The blog post addressed many of the questions leaders should answer during a time of change, including why the change was necessary and where they are in the process. However, it took employees by surprise when leadership could have been upfront about the changes and how it would affect their teams. As the situation unfolds, we will continue to learn how Alphabet is managing the transition and how its employees are adjusting.


When you’re a giant retailer like Amazon, your name is synonymous with change. Staying competitive is no easy task, though, because you are up against other innovative retail giants. Without a solid strategy in place to ensure your company is ready for change, failure is inevitable.

Such was the case with the Amazon Fire phone launch. The online shopping company made its foray into the smartphone realm, which seemed to be a smart decision. But one detail was missing: The phone didn’t offer enough reasons for smartphone owners to switch from their Apples or Androids. The phone boasted some intriguing features, but lacked a competitive price for what it had to offer and was sold in limited locations.

Was Amazon ready for this step? Perhaps not. What at first was considered a great idea may now require “many iterations” and “some number of years to get it right,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Change readiness is a process that prepares your company to shift directions, even if it is still keeping the same overall strategic focus. Having these discussions with employees can result in an even better product.


To successfully navigate change, leaders should initiate and encourage change talk- discussion within companies that represents positive reasons for supporting change. When change talk is used well, it can prevent the “commitment dip” that often occurs when employees lose sight of the goal and revert back to old behaviors. This may have been a factor in Nike’s struggled over the years to maintain a favorable image after its factories in Asia were exposed for their abusive labor practices in the early 1990s.

Those in power at Nike didn’t act on the need to implement a more ethical supply chain until they were called out by activists, college students and consumer protesters-until customers boycotting their products hit the company’s bottom line. Their substandard work practices were a way to cut corners on costs to increase profit, which ultimately ended up costing Nike its reputation in the court of public opinion. Since then Nike has made positive changes, but it took time for the company to acknowledge all that it needed to do to improve working conditions. By working closely with employees and having ongoing conversations about what actions would be necessary to make lasting changes, Nike could have improved its supply chain practices before they made headlines.

In each of these examples, adequately preparing employees for changes and thoroughly discussing how the plans should play out could have solidified strategy execution efforts and led to a profitable innovation.

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Configuration Management Change Process Problems

I am always hearing that the change process takes too long. In addition, it appears “Configuration Management” (The “CM” department) is always to blame.

In reality, the blame may lie with the CM process itself, which includes everyone who prepares information, proposes changes, reviews changes, dispositions changes, and implements changes. The following is a partial list of reasons why the change process might take too long.

Form Issues

The change request is not accurate/complete when submitted and needs to be.

The change forms are just too complicated and not user friendly, resulting in rework.

The change review process has only one path (everything has to go through a change board).

Reviewers take too long to review a change and have to be tracked down and reminded to review changes.

Decision makers attend the change board unprepared.

The technical review is incomplete.

Costs are not gathered, or the estimate is in error.

The system/process/work- flow for change management is not automated.

Too many corrective action changes overwhelm the process.

Too many corrective action changes exist because released documentation is not what it should be.

Change Board Issues

Attendees are unprepared.

There are people involved in these reviews that are not necessary.

Impact analysis was incomplete.

Signature Requirements.

There are non-value added signatures required for disposition of the change.

Prioritization Issues:

Everything is urgent.

Resource Issues:

Resources needed to do all the above correctly and implement change tasks are not available.

Personnel state they are too busy to review changes.

Lead Time Issues

Personnel wait until the last minute to write a change, forwarding the change to the CM Department; then complaining that “CM” (the Department) is slowing them down.

Training Issues

Employees are not trained in how the change process works or how to properly fill out the change request and/or implementation plan. As a result, personnel need the CM department to write changes for them, or have the CM Department assist in various aspects of preparing a change, resulting in a bottleneck in the CM department.

Changes to Changes

People do not have the information they need to fully assess the impact of a change, and identify items/documents affected the first time around. This results in changes to changes.

People make revisions to changes to already approved changes without notifying anyone; resulting in delays when the alteration is discovered.

Manual Systems

There is no automated work- flow, or automated forms, associated with the change process. Automation makes a good process move quicker. However, even if there is automation, you will still have the same issues described above if your processes are not what they should be.

The Bottom Line

CM is a cross-functional business process that, if done right, enables everyone to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Everyone needs to understand that if it is too slow, it may not be the fault of “CM” (the department). In fact, the fault usually lies elsewhere. If you are having problems it is time your organization reevaluated the process, and the roles of everyone involved.

Copyright 2010, Steve Easterbrook, CMPIC

Leading (And Following) Through Change

In our previous article, we discussed that for most of us change is uncomfortable and anxiety provoking. We fear the unknown. Naturally, we face organizational change with resistance, either openly or passively.

Leading through an organizational change is a great balancing act that appears to be more of an art than a science. This act requires of leaders to have a sound skill and a strong will. Each organization has their distinct culture and history, and there is no definitive prescription to successfully lead through change. The key is to remember that as leaders we cannot tell people stop feeling what they feel. On the contrary, fighting resistance directly will just bring in more resistance. However, several time and experience proven approaches can guide us in an effective change management while embracing resistance as a part of the process.

Create a vision. When we lead, we have to be certain to which direction we are going. It may be challenging to create a vision to manage an externally driven organizational change, such as downsizing due to economic conditions. Yet, the vision is the main starting point and the foundation of change management. Ideally, leader’s vision would embrace full understanding of organization’s current situation and the implications for future. Employee involvement in creating a vision is critical to employees’ future ownership of the vision.

Set strategic goals. Organizational change management requires setting strategic goals. Again, employee involvement in crafting the goals is important. Goals should be backed up by short term objectives (2-8 weeks). These goals may differ from strategic goals developed during stable organizational times as they would be shorter termed. Generally, leaders should refer to these goals and objectives on daily basis and update employees on progress on at least a weekly basis. First, it allows leaders to better measure the progress of change. Secondly, it involves employees and provides them with a better sense of control when they know “where they are”.

Communicate. Communication must be timely, true, and consistent. Be positive, but realistic in your messages. Employees have to know reasons for the change, the vision, the plan, and implications for their performance expectations or job security. Using a variety of communication pathways is a good strategy. However, if you already shared information that may be anxiety provoking such as possible layoffs or reduction in work hours, avoid repeating that information again and again unless you have new information pieces to add. Let employees know when they can expect an update and follow through before or on that date.

Keep an open door policy. It’s a good approach when leaders welcome employees to come to them directly with any questions about the change process. With that, it also means that leaders should embrace a mindframe of openness where they genuinely expect employee questions and are forthcoming with answers. Let’s also keep in mind that building trust is a process, and not the task; it may take numerous conversations before employees start trusting leaders and the change process.

Appreciate and highlight successes that employees attain during the change process, such as learning a new skill, learning a new computer program, or embracing a new role. Most importantly, treat and believe that your people are your most valuable asset. To be effective, praise and appreciation has to honest and authentic – embrace your employee’s behaviors not only by your mind, but also your heart. Apologize when you are incorrect. Show that you care about your employees beyond work environment.

When we are following through change, we are also not powerless (although it may feel that way).

Face your feelings about the change, especially when the change is imposed and beyond your control. Figure out what your fears or worries are. You don’t have to be a victim, even when you are not in control of the change. Write about your feelings. Embrace the notion that feelings are pleasant or unpleasant, but they are not bad or good.

Choose your thoughts and attitudes about the change. Negative thoughts block your creativity and problem-solving abilities. Positive thoughts build bridges to possibilities and opportunities. Keep a record of the choices you make in your thoughts and attitudes. Catch your negative self-talk – instead of telling yourself “I cannot handle it anymore”, ask yourself “How I can handle it?” Instead of saying “never” or “always”, say “this time”. Welcome change as an opportunity and explore the benefits of the change.

Rely on peer support. Seek positive support from peers and provide the same to them. When someone’s feeling down, put your effort in reframing their negative thoughts into positive ones. Ask for help in the process of learning a new role or a new task. While it is OK to occasionally vent to someone and share your frustrations, venting will not ultimately change your situation, but instead may create poor morale all around. Instead stay positive and solution focused.

An organizational change is a challenging process for both leaders and followers. Resistance, anxiety, and strong feelings often accompany the process. While we cannot talk ourselves or others out of feelings overnight, leaders and followers can work together to make the change process smoother.