Capabilities Focus: Emma Payne on Change Management

Freddie Luchterhand-Dare
March 23, 2023

Change management is a crucial process in any organization that involves making modifications to processes and operations, where it helps to ensure that the changes are implemented effectively, with minimal disruption to operations and maximum benefits to the organization. The value of change management lies in its ability to ensure that changes are made successfully and with the least amount of disruption. By managing the change process effectively, organisations can improve performance, reduce risk, and develop a culture of adaptability that can help them succeed in today's rapidly changing business environment, which is of utmost importance.

We've asked Emma Payne, our new VP of People & Culture, to share her valuable insights on the subject. Emma has extensive experience in talent management and change leadership, with her career spanning across the UK and Asia Pacific. Here's what she had to say: 

Hi Emma! You specialise in talent and hiring. We were wondering if you could elaborate a bit more on what you do here at Openspace?

As VP of People & Culture, my purpose is to nurture and strengthen our culture, to inspire and support the development and growth of our people and provide guidance to the exciting set of portfolio companies as they scale. As a new joiner to Openspace I am prioritising getting to know my colleagues and learning about our Portfolio companies. As a people leader I believe in the important of the employee voice, actively listening to the people and acknowledging the good, the bad and the ugly. Understanding what has the potential to make my colleagues feel more inspired, valued, engaged, and fulfilled at work enables me to validate my priorities so I can focus on what will have the biggest impact for the team and the business.

We’d like to talk about the importance of culture and change today. What do you think are several key things that an organisation needs to do when wanting to implement change management?

The aftermath of the pandemic, dramatic climate change and political instability around the world has resulted in major disruptions in the way we work and our needs. Positively these macro factors have driven an acceleration of technological innovation, scientific advances and importantly people are valuing purpose and well being as a priority. The environment we live in is one where change is constant. There isn’t a rule book to change. Change is situational so when preparing to implement change I like to start acknowledging some basic truths about change:

  • People need to know the reason why and the vision for change. Why are doing this? What is in it for me? What are the benefits? How do we get there? What does success look like?
  • Change is personal and everyone reacts to change differently. People may feel withdrawal or resentment or guilt or anxiety or despair or happiness or excitement. All of these feelings should be anticipated and welcomed.
  • Leaders must sponsor the change. If leaders don’t believe, then you can’t expect your employees to. Leaders play a critical role in role-modelling, communicating and listening throughout the change journey.

As you prepare to implement change take time to:

  • Be clear on the why and the benefits and communicate these widely over a variety of channels, ensuring you provide regular updates and forums for feedback. There will be supporters and detractors, acknowledge the journey and accept some people will require longer to accept and adjust.
  • Engage your leaders on their role as champions and ensure they are committed to the case for change, understand the implementation process and will provide ongoing support.
  • Plan for the additional effort implementing change will require. Change requires time, funding and effort. Set clear goals, have a detailed change plan that takes in to account certain obstacles or risks and involve people in the planning process. It ain’t a one-person job!

What are several key obstacles that tend to be faced when wanting to implement change, and how can we best overcome these?

In my experience change initiatives often fail due to:

  • An unclear case for change, which can lead to a lack of buy-in which often results in resistance or refusal to change.
  • Lack of change sponsorship to champion the change, which undermines the importance of changing.
  • Lack of understanding or planning of effort required to implement change leading to poor execution.

Overcoming change challenges requires a combination of leadership sponsorship, effective communication, careful planning and ongoing engagement across all stakeholders which you can achieve by:

  • Onboarding and aligning leaders as active sponsors of change.
  • Validating your case for change with various stakeholder groups.
  • Engaging people to challenge, embed and drive change.
  • Utilizing a structured approach to managing change and agree on how you will deliver the change initiatives, define what success looks like and how this will be measured.

Do you have any advice for startups or our portfolio companies when it comes to implementing changes and importance of culture in a firm?

Change success requires empathy, boldness and courage. My advice to our portfolio companies planning on implementing a change is to involve your stakeholders in change, identify and address cultural barriers and invest in a culture that supports and embraces change. Start with:

  • Defining why: Why is this change important and what are the risks if you don’t change. This helps define your case for change.
  • Prepare to understand the change: Commit time to understanding what will change, who will be impacted and the different scales of impact. This will help you tailor your change activities based on impacted peoples’ needs.
  • Identify resources who can lead and support change activities: Acknowledge change requires effort and plan for this. Importantly remember to celebrate the successes and learn from any mistakes.

And remember change impacts people, and your people are your culture, to quote Tony Hsieh: "a company’s culture is often the biggest determinant of success or failure". Culture isn’t a list of values or desired results; it is your DNA. Living your values ensures your culture is authentic; your culture is a living thing and it requires constant nourishing. Like change it takes time, reflection and pivoting to be real and authentic. Your culture is what enables your people to thrive, and when they thrive – well I suspect your business results will speak for themselves.