Traditional industries are at a tipping point. Over the past two decades, technology adoption has spread quickly across the more adaptive, largely unregulated industries of retail, marketing, advertising and others. These industries served as the testing ground for technologies that quickly evolved from nice to have to need to have within a number of years. Meanwhile, more traditional industries, such as financial, legal and healthcare have continued with business as usual – until now. Consumers and employees are demanding from traditional institutions the highly efficient, always-on communications and services they’ve become accustomed to.
I witnessed this first hand in the financial industry, where I spent most of my career prior to launching Workstorm. During this time, I founded one of the leading electronic trading firms in the country, Chopper Trading. Chopper would not have been successful if it weren’t for our steadfast philosophies for continuous improvement and change management. We were pairing experts, who held institutional knowledge of the financial industry, with young talent, eager to try new things and blaze a new path.
Leading such a diverse organization, charted for unknown territory, was not easy. But it was the challenge, the opportunity, and the vision that inspired us to set this course and captivated all those involved. Our leadership team truly believed in the change, and we led by example. Embracing challenges, not shying away from difficulty, and pressing on with encouragement and camaraderie that had us all tracking toward the same goal.
But change management, from a traditional financial institutional model to an electronic trading model, wasn’t successful because of a single leader or the “right” technology. Like any complex system, there were many factors at play in making such a massive undertaking work:
- Share The Vision. All too often we focus on implementing the perfect, proven, new technology that will solve all our problems. But technology is built for the benefit of people, and those people have to want to use it. Before implementing any change management program, it’s critical to align senior leadership with the end vision and then cascade that vision down to all parts of the organization. With everyone embracing the why, it’s much easier to implement the how. For example, Workstorm can be mastered and universally adopted in hours, so long as users are committed to the change.
- Start With Your People. For any successful change management program, first identify a diverse team of both industry veterans, who hold a wealth of institutional knowledge, and as well as eager, often younger, early adopters. Through this process, you will begin to fill the necessary roles for a successful project team. Your Champions are the early adopters who will break down barriers to see the project through. Your Project Managers will keep the project on course and on schedule, identifying roadblocks and seeking help to clear them. Your Advocates will protect the budget, resources and timeline from internal and external threats. And your Nay-Sayers will keep the team honest, poke holes in areas of weakness, and identify opportunities for failure while there’s still time to correct them. Give all of these different people a role to play in driving the project to success.
- Move at the Speed of Success. Change takes time. You can’t rush it, but you also can’t move at a snail’s pace and expect to maintain momentum. It’s important to set challenging but achievable deadlines. This creates stretch goals, which are proven to help people feel engaged, valuable and productive without feeling overwhelmed or helpless. If a goal or timeline is too aggressive, the team can begin to feel hopeless and defeated, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Don’t Expect Instantaneous Improvement. Change involves a steep learning curve before full efficiency is achieved. While that learning curve can take time, it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. It’s often the greatest challenges in work and life that are the most rewarding in the end. Remember that there will be setbacks in the beginning as people get up to speed, but true organizational change will help reap rewards in the end. And when you have leadership dedicated to the change, and change advocates ready to embrace the technology, change can happen even faster.
- Embrace Change as a Continuum. Organizations that stop changing and evolving go into decline until they ultimately dissolve. Remaining competitive in business is like remaining competitive in any sport – you must always keep training, growing, and adapting to the conditions and the competition. Once your organization implements one change, there will always be others. So, don’t wait around for the perfect solution. Start evolving today to make continuous improvement part of your organizational culture and teach your employees to be eager to learn and grow to new heights.
Chopper Trading was a leader in technical innovation, but one piece of technology we didn’t have was an efficient way to communicate and collaborate. That’s why I began working on a collaboration solution soon after leaving the financial industry. Today, getting my work done through Workstorm saves me hours a week and even hours a day. I can’t imagine working without this technology, nor would I ever want to again.
Of course, the technology is only part of the solution. It’s the belief in the vision, combined with the appropriate management of people and expectations, that ultimately leads to successful change within an organization. Change management is not easy – no one ever said it was. But figuring out how to do it successfully is critically important to the long-term health and success of your organization, and that’s worth investing in.