This time last year, my Toronto-based digital marketing agency faced a crisis.
Our sales team was promising solutions to prospective clients that our operations team had no idea they were expected to deliver, nor were they closely involved in helping to create the solutions. The sales team focused its efforts on selling (as they should!), but then again, some problems arose:
- We signed on unfit clients and shoehorned them into our operations.
- We churned a large percentage of those clients within their first 100 days.
- The initial projects were largely unprofitable because of the lack of communication, expectation management, and unstructured, inefficient workflows between sales and operations.
Altogether these problems created a breakdown in communication and mismanaged expectations, which hurt our ability to retain customers. It also hurt employee morale across the board and negatively impacted the atmosphere within the office.
Things had to change—and fast. But as we all know, change is hard, and adopting change among a team is even harder.
So how can you get buy-in from your team while implementing changes as smoothly as possible? After successfully making adjustments to improve our workflow and customer retention, these are my best insights for helping your team embrace change.
1. Actually Listen To Your Team
Our first instinct is to jump right into dozens of solutions, but without taking the time to learn where issues lie from multiple sources, you risk focusing on the wrong solutions. Even worse, you might be zeroing in on the wrong solutions to the wrong problem.
It’s worth taking the time to sit down with the teams involved and listen to their frustrations, concerns, worries, and hopes. And you should do so with little input (for now) and without judgment.
When I talked with my sales and operations teams, I realized that while the two teams seemed to be at odds, they were both working toward the same goal of growing the company. The problem was in their poor communication with each other. They were talking in silos, but not carrying key information across teams.
Just allowing employees to air out their perspectives—with the company’s leaders and with one another—helped move us to the point of figuring out how to communicate better.
2. Involve Your Team Members To Create A Solution
My mentor Donnie Wilson, founder of Elastec Inc., once told me, “It’s only change if you’re not part of the change.”
In other words, resistance stems from someone else telling you how things should be different because very few people like to be told what to do and how to think. However, if you can involve people in the process of going from A to Z and integrate them into the decisions and solutions, that’s when real change occurs. You can help that process along by repeatedly communicating the goals, benefits, payoffs, and the impact of making changes—as well as the consequences of not changing anything.
I asked my team questions like: What issues are you facing? What would a better system look like if the goal is to reduce pressure and noise? What would the impact of that be? And how would that solve our existing problems?
This opened up communication among the teams and allowed them to work together to both identify the key problems and come up with the solutions themselves. I only facilitated. In this way, they would take ownership of the proposed changes and feel empowered to act on them.
3. Align Team Incentives With Company Goals
I discovered that the sales and operations teams had different incentives to get clients. For example, the sales team was incentivized to close as many deals—small or large—as possible to get a percentage of the commission. They weren’t necessarily considering the impact of the sale, whether it was the right deal, or whether the company was able to keep the client.
From an operations perspective, to improve the bottom line of any company, it makes more sense to retain clients for as long as possible. If clients leave within a couple of months, we’ll make little money, or none at all, which in turn impacts our reputation and ability to acquire new clients.
So we changed the sales incentive to bring it in line with the company’s vision: Rather than compensate via a percentage of commission based on the deals the sales team closed, we started offering a flat bonus for every deal, and the bonus was paid once the client had stayed beyond their first 100 days.
This changed the sales focus from seeking any client to seeking clients that were good for the company.
4. Treat Your Business Like a Lab And Your Projects As Experiments
I first learned about framing projects as experiments from Taki Moore, author of the book “Million Dollar Coach.” When you call something an experiment, you give yourself more license to test theories and wild solutions, shifting the outcome from “winning or losing” to “winning or learning.”
The other benefit is that this lowers the stakes if the experiment fails. If the changes you implement do fail, it’s not the team itself that fails. This way, your team knows it’s not personal. Adopting this mindset helped my team more comfortably accept trying the changes in our workflow.
And once the changes were implemented, they were felt in the mood of the office and in employee performance. There’s now better collaboration, trust, and engagement between the different teams within my organization—and that has led to huge improvements in the overall customer experience, churn rate, and expectations for employees.