You don’t have to be a large corporate to adopt leading change management practices. Indeed, any organisation looking to thrive in a world of constant and rapid change should consider them as an imperative!

This is an important lesson that I learned whilst leading change in a medium sized South African professional services company.


In 2012, when many companies were still suffering the effects of the 2008 global financial crises, our company was defying the odds and growing. In what had become a fairly commoditised market, we were competing with much larger, more established companies, by consistently providing high quality people who matched specific client needs. The senior leadership team was closely involved in the operation, and in addition, some of the key members of this leadership team had professional experience in the fields for which our firm now provided consulting services, giving us a unique insight into our clients’ needs.

The change

Our operations were manual, but rapid growth was straining our capacity and causing ineffective and inefficient use of time. As a result, and in anticipation of increased client demand, we decided to employ three new account managers. We recognised that this would impact our support staff to some extent, and have a small impact on our consultants, but did not consider it a major change – especially considering our single premise location.

Although the change would demand effective hand-over and integration of staff activities, we didn’t plan to change processes, and the only structural change would be an increase in my span of control. We believed affected touchpoints were small and manageable, and therefore expected it would take less than a month to induct the new staff members.

Our approach

I was responsible for managing the recruitment and on-boarding process. I felt it was important to find a good cultural ‘fit’ and employ staff who shared the organisation’s unique values. Teamwork was one of our key values, and this was demonstrated through the sharing of new business opportunities, to maximise sales for the whole company (rather than for each individual account manager at their colleagues’ expense). With this value in mind, I facilitated a workshop with the existing account managers and the support team prior to initiating the recruitment process. In the workshop, I presented the case for change and demonstrated the need for additional account management to accommodate anticipated growth. I then secured the team’s view on the profile of an ideal applicant and agreed on the type of candidate that would be ideal for our company. The advert that was placed reflected the team’s agreement as to the ideal applicant profile. Having completed the initial round of interviews, I introduced short-listed applicants to the other account managers.


…some of my colleagues on the management team had no interest in, or patience for, what they considered to be the unnecessary and unproductive ‘fluffy’ stuff!

Given that we were a small company, I didn’t consider the need for formal, structured change management process to underpin the recruitment and on-boarding process. I felt I had sufficient understanding of the nature and extent of the change, and I expected the impact to be minimal. I also didn’t have the capacity to document (or stick to) planned commitments when more pressing management activities demanded my attention. All this was exacerbated by the fact that some of my colleagues on the management team had no interest in, or patience for, what they considered to be the unnecessary and unproductive ‘fluffy’ stuff! I didn’t know it, but things were about to get out of hand……

We onboarded all three new account managers within one week of one another, and the on-boarding process included the following:

  • On their first day gave each successful applicant a two-hour induction, in which I covered:
    • Our organisational values and ethos
    • Code of conduct
    • Overview of roles and responsibilities of all office staff
    • A detailed walk-through of work processes and supporting templates used, as well as an explanation of why I had built in key checks and balances (which I later realised probably went right over their heads, being quite different to the norm, and all explained on the first day, when they were probably more concerned about remembering everyone’s names!)
    • Detailed review of their job descriptions and key performance indicators
  • Paired the new account managers with our existing account managers for purposes of job shadowing
  • Asked the new recruits to spend time shadowing our support team, to learn about the processes which they followed, with a view to understanding the impact on their own work
  • Held ad-hoc meetings with each of them during the first two weeks, as I found gaps in my diary, to establish whether they understood processes and roles and determine their readiness to take on responsibility for contractors and clients
  • Reassigned responsibilities for contractors and clients. Account managers were advised in the weekly team meeting about their reassignment, and I instructed the existing account managers to introduce our new recruits to the affected clients and consultants. I also sent individual introductory emails to each consultant and client, advising of the hand-over process
  • Included introductions to, and photographs of, the new account managers in the quarterly newsletter
  • Invested extensive time in checking the quality of engagements and work outputs of the new staff. The fact that I was one of the founders of the company and my reputation was at stake, exacerbated my natural impulse to take control. Time spent micro-managing negatively impacted management of the overall team, and prevented me from seeing the bigger picture until things had escalated out of control
  • Interestingly, our consultants – with whom we had developed close relationships in line with our value system – experienced a more significant impact than we had anticipated!

Key learnings

The key lessons from this experience, which I believe apply to most contexts, are:

  1. Visible, ‘present’ and accessible leadership is invaluable when introducing any change. The leadership team need to be consistent between themselves and over time, with regards to desired outcomes and the way change is managed. In addition, their availability and attention to unexpected challenges during the transition process is important. Leaders need to ensure they have sufficient capacity during a transition to devote to directing the change, and responding where corrective measures may be needed
  2. Open and constructive two-way communication channels are vital, and feedback should be treated impartially. Change is difficult for everyone, and allowing blame to fester can be costly
  3. Problem resolution, and, in this case particularly, systems thinking skills are important tools for both the agents of change and all affected stakeholders
  4. A full understanding of the stakeholder landscape is critical. You can avoid overlooking ‘downstream’ stakeholders by reviewing end-to-end processes and all touch points with ‘outside’ stakeholders

Although this was a really challenging experience, I have taken these key lessons with me, and resolved to never underestimate the importance of carefully managing the people side of change.