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5 Tips for Managing Organizational Change from Mike Marks

How can distributors manage organizational change during a digital transition? Start with the awareness that change is inherently difficult.

We’re hosting a three-part seminar series on digital transformation for today’s distributors with Mike Marks of Indian River Consulting Group. In part one, Mike led a conversation around managing organizational change during a digital transition, including – yes – your sales team.  

We walked away with the following imperatives: 

1. Recognize that change itself is a challenge 

A digital transformation affects the entire organization. It’s going to force your staff out of their comfort zones, the flows they’re familiar with and skilled in. Getting your change program through effectively should be like building a muscle. Think push-ups: The more you do, the better you’ll get. This, as opposed to dropping massive change into the organization and expecting results. 

Change management must account for the following five elements.: 

  • Vision: The first meeting with stakeholders is about why you need to change so they really get it. 
  • Skills: Skills include strategic planning, change management, modelling and research. 
  • Incentives: Money is often a small part as intrinsic rewards, removing negatives and increasing the right to win count more. 
  • Resources: Be careful here as discretionary energy within your organization is largely a myth. 
  • Action Plan: Use SMART objectives and reviews. 

Otherwise, you’ll end up with the associated symptom on the right: 

managing complex change


2. Involve your team members in every phase 

“Participation creates commitment,” Mike says. Understanding this will save you a lot of headaches. You must engage the full organization. And you must involve your staff in planning and implementation, particularly those employees who interface with customers daily. Otherwise, your great ambitions will fall flat. 

For instance, it’s critical that the old-school sales model changes along with the overall transformation. As such, your sales team must be involved in determining what and how to change. They have a shared vision on why they need to change and what will be effective. If they own the plan and execute on it, they’re inherently invested in making it work and adjusting if it doesn’t. 

3. Know where you stand to determine your pace

Implementing major change is a balancing act. You must move as fast as necessary based on where you stand in the market, but you can’t put so much pressure on your people that the implementation breaks.  

“If you’re behind what your customers need,” Mike says. “You need to move very quick to get caught up. If it’s not an issue where you’re losing competitive position, you want to be able to move ‘fast enough.’ It’s revolutionary inside, but it probably looks incremental from the outside.” 

This is where that muscle-building comes in. A good digital transition accelerates over time. The initial steps are some of the most difficult, but then the organization’s ability will accelerate, perhaps doubling every six months. 

4. Ensure plan clarity– and enthusiasm – before implementing 

Plan clarity is essential. Each stakeholder should know what it will take to implement the change and what “success” will look like. Your vision should be fully developed, understood and bought into. 

Part of this is helping stakeholders understand the “why,” that you’re adapting to better serve customers in this digital era. They should also understand how to win with this new strategy.  

Executive management should make the data-driven case for their teams. “Sit down with the sales team and say, ‘We’re going to change everybody!’ Their hair explodes,” Mike says. “You have to explain why, so they see the benefit of where this is going to go. Salespeople want to win. If you put a salesperson in a situation, they go out and compete and kick butt. So how do you put people in a situation they can feel, ‘I’m delivering good value at that’?”  

5. Leadership must be in a mindset to innovate

To win, a distributor must adopt an innovation mindset so they can be a fast follower. And executive leadership needs to have ‘skin in the game’ on defining a desired future state that leverages where their target customers will be in several years recognizing that even they don’t really know.  

Digitalization and automation take friction out of the process for customers, making it easier for them to do business with you and giving you a competitive advantage. However, every business comes up against challenges internally and externally as they pursue these capabilities.  

Attend Conexiom’s Automation Authority seminars to learn more about digital transformation in distribution: the headaches, the victories and the secrets to success. And access this first seminar on organizational change on-demand from anywhere – now.