Bryan Sappington

*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a monthly column series that features insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

As a child growing up in small-town Missouri, baseball was everything!  A friend lived next to a vacant lot and we all met there after school to play ball nearly every night.  We traded baseball cards, hung posters in our rooms, and talked about all of the recent highlights we saw on TV.  When the opportunity presented itself in 2010 to attend a Red Sox game at Fenway as an adult, I jumped at the chance!  Not because I like the team, but because it was a chance to experience the game in a stadium with so much history.  But it wasn’t the nostalgia of great baseball that I remember from that day.  It was Manny Ramirez’s first game back at Fenway since he was traded to the Dodgers in 2008.  Each time he came to bat, he was booed mercilessly by the fans.

While it was entertaining to see how much energy the fans put into showing their disapproval, I found myself wondering how they could so easily forget how much Ramirez had meant to their organization.  He was their best player and a huge part of the Red Sox winning two World Championships.  How could the fans have forgotten this already?  I realized much of this came down to change and the uncertainty of their star player leaving to go somewhere else.

I make this point because there is a lot at stake for companies to create a culture that embraces change.  An organizational culture that is supportive of change can increase an organization’s ability to efficiently and effectively react to opportunities and threats.  A culture resistant to change can slow or completely stall progress, wasting valuable time and resources.  To build our positive change culture, we need to develop trust through inclusion, communication and transparency.

Change always starts with a problem that needs to be solved, so we need to invite the right people to the table to help develop the solution.  We certainly need content experts, but we also need to include the influencers within our organization.  These are the informal leaders that your employees look to when considering how to react in new situations.  Leveraging their influence and credibility, they will become natural ambassadors for the cause.

Prepare a robust communication plan to introduce and sell your change.  I often hear comments like, “I just don’t understand” or “this doesn’t make any sense.”  These indicate there was not enough information available, or the right information didn’t make it to those who needed it.  Don’t be satisfied with sending one message to everyone.  Consider all audiences and make a concerted effort to reach out with specific targeted information that is relevant to each constituency.

Embrace the idea that we initially react to change with a What’s In It For Me mindset.  Simon Sinek gave a great TED Talk, entitled “Start With Why,” discussing how people are motivated to make decisions.  Illustrate how this is going to benefit them first, and then share the details.  Once you have sold someone on the “Why”, the rest will fall into place.  If we start with the new policies/procedures, we will elicit resistance that may be hard to overcome.

Provide an opportunity for feedback, then respond with real transparency.  In the end, everyone wants to feel valued and heard.  Holding open forums or sending out surveys provides everyone a chance to share the impact this has had on them.  But it is not enough just to gather the information; you have to act upon the feedback to prove that you listened.  This builds trust which is the foundation upon which you can build a culture that embraces change.

When Albert Pujols returned to Busch Stadium after joining the Angels, the game had to pause for a significant amount of time while fans gave him one roaring ovation after another.  Was this just random?  Or is there something different about the Cardinals’ fan culture?  Change is inevitable and impacts us with varying levels of intensity, but how we prepare and work through it within our organizations can make all the difference.

Bryan Sappington teaches Organizational Behavior and Foundations courses as adjunct faculty member with Columbia College. As Academic Advising Coordinator in the Robert W. Plaster School of Business, he advises business students, assists them in navigating their degree requirements and provides guidance on important aspects of their program. He holds an MBA from Columbia College.