Change is The Challenge for Future Success – The end is nigh! (part 3)







Here we are, the third and final part of my change related blog. You’ll recall from part 1 and 2  that I’ve meandered through my personal journey through career related change, going back  over 25 years. The journey I encountered in a failing department store located in the UK’s second city in the fiscally hedonistic eighties is one that almost every day since I’ve seen, heard about or felt.

I can guarantee that in the last week, since my first post, you too will have been exposed to change. How we view change, how we deal with it and how effectively we plan and deliver change messages are critical to how we and our audiences react and feel.

So in my 80’s example, I finally did leave the Store Managers office, my tail firmly embedded between my legs! One part of me discounted his reaction, the other (and greater) part of me felt stunned, sickened and aghast. I was berating myself for being so stupid, for not preparing, for being the big-head, know-it-all.

I think I was going through the change (but the real mid-life crisis happened much later)!

I returned to an empty menswear department, where my colleagues stood or leaned on fixtures, dishevelled and soulless. Only one person knew the look on my face and she knew that things hadn’t gone well. Grace (and you know who you are Miss Murphy) listened, understood and helped me consider the next move. I needed to get on with something. I needed to get back on my horse!

With newly found gusto, I set about creating a new way of positioning the earlier manuscript. I’d been challenged by the attitude of a senior (both metaphorically and physically) but knew that this was a tome all by itself.

I knew that ‘The New Lewis’s’ would only be successful if our people were behind the strategy. To some customers, the upcoming changes were a closing down sale in all but name and they too were to shortly undergo change. Without our people and our customers (who were usually homo-sapiens!) behind the strategy, we’d be doomed to fail. 

On the 51 bus back to Walsall, the windows streaming with condensation, my thoughts finally crystallised. My plan was to create a guide, focused on the Boards’ internal and external customers. It was to be called ‘Change is The Challenge for Future Success’. It personalised change, it set out to inform, recognise the challenges ahead and outline the effects of the upcoming change if it didn’t work out.

For our customers, the guide targeted a ‘use it or lose it’ psychology, normally confined to Post Offices and desperate market traders in the city’s Bull Ring. It outlined that the ‘old’ Lewis’s offer was no longer sustainable, but in order to keep the Lewis’s portland stone facade clean and shining in Birmingham, we’d need their support. It effectively begged for Brummies to come together and support their shop! 

With more clarity, more understanding and having been bruised by witnessing the effects of change first hand, Wednesday came and the crisp morning fuelled my trip back up to the fourth floor.

I was lucky. `The Store Manager, and the rather officious Personnel Manager were at reception. Without hesitation, I launched into an apology / grovel! I invited them to listen to the effects the earlier meeting had on me. I outlined that (in my opinion), we needed to focus on people, whatever status or grade, we also needed to involve customers in our journey.

With no props to hand (and bear in mind there was no PowerPoint, iPads or even printed sheets to support), my slightly wobbly pitch was verbose and circuitous, but he got it and she got it. She loved it and proceeded to inform us that she was aware of the ‘change curve’ as “it was covered in her personnel course”! Of course, Personnel dealt with people, people just dealt with change! No wonder Personnel was rebranded HR once the Kubler-Ross theory got ‘out’!

They looked surprised by my enlightened stance on the subject, she looked devastated that someone else knew about this thing called change! He loved the brand and promised that he’d take it to the agency that day. (i had no idea what the agency was…)

Within a week, I was summoned to the fourth floor and presented with two A5 pamphlets, one finished in black, the other in white. Both had ‘The New Lewis’s’ logo on the cover and both carried the strap-line “Change is The Challenge for Future Success”.

There were diagrams and bullet points. Challenges and opportunities sections and a telephone contact at Headquarters for help. It looked stunning.

The store manager confirmed the pamphlet was to be distributed to all staff, across all Lewis’s stores. The white version would be produced in trifold, personalised to each store and distributed by floor walkers on each Saturday and late night trading event. (To be honest, they could just have printed a ream, we had so few punters!)

I was elated. Proud. For the second time in a year I felt that I’d accomplished something, that I’d learned more than any lesson in my poxy secondary school, and that after research, stiff fingers through hammering typewriter keys and obvious set-backs, I’d triumphed!

My the end of March, the pamphlets were out there. Meetings were reconvened with all staff, with the Personnel crew leading the way. Change is The Challenge for Future Success was published! I had a best seller!

Despite self doubt, my candour had won the day. The pamphlet wasn’t a modern day ‘spin’ on the truth – it was honest. Northern English, working class, strong and truthful – just like the Lewis’s brand values.

I saw customers reading it on escalators, staff pondering and scribbling notes on it in the canteen and, yes, I saw plenty in the bins of the Gents toilet. 

In 2013, my understanding of change has been buoyed by life experience and greater common-sense, rather than professional study. It’s been endowed by enormous grief, more workplace restructures than I’ve had hot dinners and about a dozen home relocations. 

I’m fortunate to have had a tri-directional view of change. I’ve developed it, implemented it and been affected by it. Three times I’ve become moribund due to my own change proposals! 

Does this make me a robot? Does this make me a ‘change manager’? Does this make me immune to the effects of change?

No. Not at all.

Admittedly, the change cycle for me is a rapid process. The alternations of change are nothing but a swift rollercoaster ride at a theme park for me, but often a deserted one. I become quite solitary through change and for me, quite reflective. My lower axes of change are also quite deep versus many of my peers, but the speed makes the stomach churning dips more manageable.

Knowing my reaction to change has also hindered some major change challenges that I have faced. Bringing friends, family or colleagues on such a riotous journey as mine simply doesn’t work, but a deep knowledge of change and it’s effects on different people helps me temper my outward appearance.

Those of you that know me well will know how I handle change and how effectively (or not) I help others through it. I’d welcome your feedback.

For those that don’t know me (yet), I’ve got a five point checklist that has sat with me since 1987. It’s professionally never failed me and personally it’s acted as a memory jogger when I’m at a low ebb.

My new life challenges are all about change – recovering from bereavement, opening a new business and discovering new personal opportunities. Much of my ‘new life’ is about helping others through change too, using the tools that I read about all those years ago, but just using them better (or at least a little more delicately!)

For those that dash through change, the following is your 60 second guide. For those that meander, here’s a five point starter for ten!

  1. Understand the basics of the change curve and consider how you’ll personally deal with each phase.
  2. If you’re delivering change, take time to fully understand the effects on you first, then go into the detail and ask yourself probing questions from every perspective. You may not know your audience, but you know yourself – there’s no excuse for not fully preparing!
  3. If you’re on the receiving end of change, or find yourself at a low ebb, stop and think about how you’re feeling, how you’re reacting and challenge yourself to define your next steps. Own yourself, it’s likely you’ll have only one chance to make your case or ask the right questions.
  4. Control external emotions. Whether it’s the loss of a pet hamster or closing a multinational, most of us will externalise the effects of change. I once knew a CEO who, after a major corporate change announcement to the City would retire to his office and cry. If that’s what it takes to protect those professionally affected, do it!
  5. Manage self. Protecting others doesn’t mean closedown. Find a release mechanism and talk through your feelings with significant others, mentors or third parties. If you’re delivering change, be honest, be authentic – show you understand. If you’re on the receiving end, be constructive, honest and remain authentic. 

It doesn’t matter what type of change you’re going through or if it’s 1987 or 2017, the effects of change are as disparate as human emotion itself.

Preparation, determination and stoicism is the way I deal with stuff, but that’s not for everyone! As I continue to learn something new about me every day, I add it to my knowledge-book, but ultimately my learnings always boil down to the five bullet points.

Change is The Challenge for Future Success, and to be frank, success isn’t always forthcoming. ‘The New Lewis’s’ didn’t work. Lewis’s Limited, Bull Street, Birmingham closed just a few years later and sat cold and empty for several years, as a symbol of changing retail requirements. On reflection, I don’t think customers ever ‘got it’ and I’m not sure the staff could overcome the loss that customers emoted whilst losing their retail monolith.

Ironically, almost 30 years later, John Lewis (and there is no business connection, despite the moniker) will open a flagship branch in Birmingham as part of the New Street redevelopment. Like any organisation, it will flex and change to market dynamics, but I hope their management will be receptive to the apprentices in the business recommending a different approach or applying different tactics to help their Partners and Customers through whatever change is before them.

Whatever happens, Retail in the next Century will evolve just as quickly as it did in the Lewis’s era. Let’s hope the evolution of people are considered in that process, as the Retail industry like many others, can’t be fully automated and ‘manned’ with automatons!


David Oxendale


About The very mobile mentor...

"Life is the name of the game, and I want to play the game with you" as Bruce Forsyth used to sing at the top of 'The Generation Game'. This blog is all about observational, irreverent but sometimes deeply emotional musings of everyday life from my perspective.
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