What Is Change Management, Anyway?

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January 15, 2024

To achieve the levels of growth that many marketing and sales organizations want – they’ll need to manage change. Whether it’s tweaks to an org structure, new technology, fast hiring or priority pivots – change is growth and vice versa.

Change management involves building consensus around a process and taking into complete account the day-to-day impacts of that process on the people involved. Or, in the words of author and change management leader Sheila Cox, “Organizational change management ensures that the new processes resulting from a project are actually adopted by the people who are affected.”

Forward-thinking businesses know navigating change is a key to organizational success. Yet, as many leaders know, this is infinitely easier said than done. According to the Harvard Business Review, up to two-thirds of change initiatives fail. This happens for a variety of reasons: lack of buy-in and engagement, poor communication, cultural differences, and timing issues, among others.

There are principles you can follow to ensure your change efforts succeed. We've talked to many marketing leaders about the practical ways they manage change in their organizations. We found five major themes.

Master the Art of Buy-In

You can’t make big changes happen if your team isn’t involved and invested in the process. Effective changemakers master the art of buy-in. Working with your teams to understand their needs and priorities — and generate solutions — is the groundwork for a successful change initiative.

Buy-in starts by acknowledging that all change is a team effort. Margaret Herndon, former CMO at WestRock Company, shares her philosophy: “This is a team sport. This is not about a hero CMO coming in and making all this change [happen within a company]. It’s about the team and listening to what’s working and not working. Then, it’s about getting the team involved in the change.”

Investing in your team also means empowering them to be leaders.

Aleya Chattopadhyay, former VP of Marketing at Procore, says investing in your team “means spending time with them and talking about culture, what kind of leaders they are and want to be, and helping them develop their leadership qualities.”

In short, a fully empowered team is a successful team.

Embrace Experimentation

Inherent in any change effort is the possibility of failure. Preempt potential failures by taking the sting out of them. Remove the individual responsibility from failures, and instead, give your teams the space to create and iterate.

The fast-moving world of B2B marketing is often a cycle of experimentation and reiteration. Allison Breeding, CMO of Apptio, keeps her experimentation mantra close at hand: “Test drive, fail fast, and hold on to those successes when you find them.”

A culture of experimentation looks different for every leader. Yet, it starts with the philosophy that experimentation can lead to powerful results. As Lumavate President Stephanie Cox loves to tell her teams, “there are no bad ideas.”

Maintain Transparency

Building a culture of teamwork and experimentation is not a one-step process. Especially throughout the process of building a lasting change, consistent communication is essential. That’s where a communication schedule comes in: “You have to share the right things, with the right people, at the right time.”

Communication is a lot easier when your teams work together toward a shared goal. Leadership consultant, AJ Josefewitz, believes this involves two essential components: 1) making the time investment to build inter-team relationships and 2) developing shared criteria so team members across marketing, sales, and IT are invested in achieving the same outcome.

Give Credit Where It’s Due

Failure is a powerful learning experience, but success is an even more empowering teachable moment. Changemakers can’t encourage experimentation without also highlighting the ideas that really work.

For marketing leader Scott Vaughan, this looks like public praise. In his role as Chief Growth Officer at Integrate, Vaughan regularly spotlighted team members’ successful ideas. Small wins are worth celebrating and can often lead to a chain of successes.

Make Initiatives Measurable

There’s always a way to measure success, so find it. Setting and tracking goals make success achievable and transparent across teams. After all, how can you know whether you’ve achieved success if you don’t know what success looks like or what it takes to get there?

Kate Slyker, CMO of General Communication Corp, says scorecards are necessary for engagement and improvement. “I think the better your scorecard, the better you’re going to be able to know where to pivot.” Slyker uses goal-setting and surveys to evaluate where the difference between where teams are, and where they want to be.

Learn from Marketing Leaders

Leaders in marketing, sales, and operations need to build processes that work — and unite teams along the way. If you are interested in hearing perspectives from more marketing leaders, let's talk.

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