I heard a story once about change based on actual research. It goes like this: Once there were 4 chimpanzees in a large enclosed structure. They had plenty of room to play, exercise and socialize. One day, at the top of a pole in the middle some bananas appeared. A chimp noticed and started to climb the pole to get the bananas. The pole was rigged so that when a chimp got halfway up, it triggered a ledge to come out of the pole, blocking access to the bananas. Unable to get around the ledge, the chimp climbed back down. One after another, each chimp tried, unsuccessfully to get at the bananas. After a few days one of the chimps was replaced with a new chimp, as he joined, he decided to go for the bananas.
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Knowing it wasn’t accessible, the other 3 chimps prevented him from being able to get to the pole to try. Bewildered, but not wanting to get into an altercation, he decided to just leave the bananas alone. One by one the chimps were replaced, until all chimps were new and hadn’t ever tried, or seen anyone try to climb the pole. At this point, a fifth chimp entered. He went for the pole and all of the chimps stopped him. “We don’t climb the pole here” is what you could tell they were thinking. And just like that, a new tradition was formed that became part of the institution.
How often does this happen in your operation?
At one time, I was with a company that had a very rich history and a track record of success. It was important to me that I was in a position to make a difference. During the interview process, they prided themselves on the fact that they never said “This is how we do things” and that they were open. Once onboard, it became clear that while they never said those exact words, they expressed the same meaning in many artful ways:
- “This is a best practice”
- “This is our differentiator”
- “The CEO expects it to look this way”
- “We can look at that in the future, but we need to keep this as-is”
- My personal favorite: “We already tried that and it didn’t work”
All of those phrases can beat down a well-intentioned employee who wants to make a difference. The beauty of moving across companies is the opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas and best practices. Companies evolve, customers evolve and employees evolve. Businesses that stay the same are destined to fail. Not all change is successful, but not changing guarantees failure.
Typical change curve - This is the 4-stage process of processing change
Knowing change is inevitable, how do we manage it? Our work is challenging and the pace can be breakneck speed at times. There is no pause button in business.
You have to start with understanding why the change is happening. Is it completely uncontrollable (e.g. new bank regulations)? Is it a business change to become more competitive (e.g. a division closing down)? Is it a change in the rules of your contact center (e.g. no more casual Fridays)? If it’s not clear why the change is happening, take some time to ask your leader. Don’t worry that you should already know the answer. It’s better to ask the question than to assume and be wrong. Ask in private if necessary.
If you ARE the leader, then it’s really important that you know the answer, because you’ll not only have to answer your employees’ questions, but you’ll also need to interpret for them what it means. Your role calls upon you to explain the pros, cons and impacts of the change to your staff.
Once you understand the change, then take some time to process the change and what it means for you and those you work with. It’s in our nature to think about how this will impact us, but not always as obvious to consider what it means to others. A reduction in maternity leave may not impact you if you’re not planning or don’t have a family. However, it may cause a tremendous amount of stress on a coworker that you work with regularly. This, of course, will ultimately impact you. Get ahead of it, and in the process, you may be able to help your coworker process the change.
Not every change is “life and death”. Put change into context, let’s say a new employee makes a recommendation to have non-traditional schedules in your contact center. This can cause an increase in workload for the WFM scheduler to accommodate, because they are non-standard and they have to create custom scheduling templates. In isolation, this change is bad for WFM and good for the employee. Look at the context here, this is a change that promotes innovation in your workplace. It encourages a new employee to continue to engage and come up with ideas. It may make your operations more efficient (if it doesn’t, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be adopted). And for the WFM scheduler, the job has become more complex. This allows for a conversation with leadership about the WFM staffing ratios. How often do those discussions take place anyway? Staffing a WFM team is complex and simple ratios don’t do it justice. Leverage this change as an opportunity to right-size WFM.
Lastly, consider how you can move beyond just embracing and managing the change to you becoming the change. The best way to not have to process change driven by others is to become the one who initiates ideas and helps to guide the change. Anybody at any level can change the landscape. If you don’t feel like you can make a meaningful change at your workplace, then you’re either with the wrong company, or you need to get yourself into a position where you can make the change. The number one driver for me moving up the ladder in WFM was that I couldn’t stand some of the decisions my leaders made. I wanted to be the one to make decisions and drive positive change for the business and my employees.
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Originally published on Feb 06, 2017, updated on Mar 11, 2021.