Why The Little Things Do Count In Change Management

Paul Kurchina

Business transformation is often associated with big, bold changes that can redefine the company, industry, and if you’re lucky, the entire marketplace. People come up with all sorts of new products, services, processes, and experiences that they hope will stick for the long term. But no matter how fantastic they are, most of these ideas never seem to deliver as expected.

Businesses are more inspired than ever before. But, as Adam Fridman, founder and CEO of ProHabits and co-author of The Science of Story, reminded me during a recent conversation, all of this passion and excitement is really daydreaming without putting action behind it.

“The rate of change is accelerating exponentially. Twenty years ago, the typical large company did a reorganization every seven years. Today, it’s more like every seven months,” says Fridman. “How do we adapt and do so intentionally? We have to find ways to protect and support people as our companies change – especially the days after the first day.”

The battle for change is won or lost by frontline managers

Purpose inspires, values guide, and habits define. Fridman has spent five years as a contributor to Inc.com, asking over 1,000 organizational leaders their “why” behind their business transformation initiatives. All kinds of responses come up. He hears clichés like building long-lasting relationships. Other executives immediately look down on their phones, searching for the company’s mission statement or most recent tagline. But every once in a while, someone comes up with a long, heartfelt story connected to change in the organization.

“The bullseye of the purpose should be simple, genuine, and inspirational,” observes Fridman. “It only takes a five-word phrase that’s authentic internally and externally. But most of all, it must be aspirational, even permitting organizations to ask what is their role in society.”

However, discovering their purpose does not give organizations license to sprint to advertise that message externally. “In most cases, when employees are asked about the copy in the culture section of their company’s website, they say it’s a message for customers, not them. This tells me that the leaders must first create a strong connection between the purpose and the reality that all employees work and live in,” shares Fridman.

Approximately 80% of an organization are people who must adopt the values inspired by the top two percent (in other words, boardroom executives). Meanwhile, 18% of the remaining workforce comprises the frontline managers responsible for ensuring the right habits are modeled throughout the organization.

According to Fridman, “the challenge really is between the 18% and 80%.” Managers allocate tremendous energy toward hosting retreats and workshops. But after spending a full day learning new theories or best practices and getting inspired by amazing speakers, teams go back to their jobs the next day, while everything that inspired them becomes a distant memory.

Purposeful micro-actions lead to macro-changes

The main goal of these team events is to shift mindsets to prepare for the change, not improve processes or break down silos. Managers need to serve as the enabler of change, not the buffer of the message given at the top, by taking small steps (or micro-actions) that are meaningful and impactful.

“The first thing to address with almost every organization is the concern and the fatigue associated with the number of technologies that have been launched,” notes Fridman. “We addressed that concern with a beautiful experience that has no passwords or usernames, all actions are, with one click, within your existing workflow, email, or text message.”

Individuals can then commit to unique micro-actions that are related to a moment they experience within their company. If they commit to that small change, they are more likely to adopt it in their daily work and see the progress of their personal transformation, which is manageable and easy.

Another micro-action that encourages sustainable change is reaching out to new people. Think about your organizational silos across the business. What could happen if managers choose to meet one new person a week and strike up a conversation about their day, job, or life? By sharing experiences, managers begin to listen, show empathy, and reflect those lessons learned in their decision-making, which can have a ripple effect throughout the organization.

The importance of being present when managing change

When dealing with any change, sometimes the smallest decisions can pave the way to the most significant impacts. It’s what may inspire a hospital intern to run a wheelchair-bound patient to a neighboring hospital through an underground tunnel system when a medical device breaks down. Or it could be a simple act of gratitude for a person on the team that ensures a new business model, process, or system runs smoothly to help the rest of the group shine.

Yes, those little things do matter in times of change. Every moment a manager is present and listening is an opportunity to create the space needed to stimulate the desired change that delivers bigger and better outcomes.

Discover the power of micro-actions when developing the message around your business transformation. Check out the book “The Science of Story: Brand is a Reflection of Culture,” written by Adam Fridman and his fellow ProHabits co-founder Hank Ostholthoff.

Paul Kurchina

About Paul Kurchina

Paul Kurchina is a community builder and evangelist with the Americas’ SAP Users Group (ASUG), responsible for developing a change management program for ASUG members.