How to lead change
With a career spanning nearly four decades, Engelina Jaspers has held senior marketing roles at leading technology and consumer companies including HP and Eastman Kodak Company, and is the founder of a training business dedicated to helping marketers be more agile. Here, the transformation expert shares her advice for leading change and getting the majority on side.
When Greenpeace painted the slogan “Hazardous Products” over 11,500 square feet of HP’s Palo Alto headquarters, the tech company took immediate action to unify its sustainable practices.
The environmentalists were protesting the toxic chemicals present in some of HPs computing products and which HP had pledged in 2007 to eliminate. It was now 2009, and time was up.
Naturally, the mood was frantic behind closed doors, says Engelina Jaspers, who was then Vice President of Corporate Marketing at the organization. The leadership team was rallying the troops, quickly putting together a plan to turn the tides. “By the end of the day, my boss comes to me and says: ‘You’re going to head up sustainability for HP.’”
The language of business
As Vice President of Environmental Sustainability, Engelina helped HP become the highest-ranking technology company on Interbrand’s 50 Best Global Green Brands, and second on both the US 500 and Global 100 in Newsweek’s Greenest Companies rating.
But her team was initially skeptical. Aside from being a “good recycler”, Engelina had no formal sustainability credentials – a fact that made some of the experienced environmental scientists understandably uncomfortable. “I remember one person saying, ‘how can you get our CEO passionate about sustainability?’ But my goal was not to make them passionate about sustainability.”
Engelina explains that many companies appoint people who are passionate about sustainability to head up sustainability directives. “I think that’s a mistake,” she says. “If you have passionate people leading this stuff, people often discount it.” Being an ‘outsider’, she adds, offers you the luxury of objectivity and perspective. In other words, you can become a translator to the rest of the business.
My goal was to link sustainability to the CEO’s passion. What’s the CEO’s passion? Top-line and bottom-line growth, momentum, engaged employees, a good reputation.
The same principle applies to marketers. Buy-in is essential – whether from sales, finance, or, in the case of large transformations, an entire organization. To get people on-side, you have to understand their perspective, their challenges, and speak their language.
Unfortunately, Engelina says, marketers have a tendency to talk jargon. “We get into techno speak, marketing speak – SEO, SEM (search engine marketing), brand equity tracking – and other stakeholders are scratching their heads.” While these metrics are critically important, they’re important exclusively to the marketing department – not the CFO, not the CEO or CTO. “If you want to get any traction, you have to talk the language of business.”
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An oft-cited McKinsey study from 2019 revealed that 70 percent of transformations fail. Perhaps the most surprising revelation was why. “The main cause is employee resistance to change and management behavior that doesn’t support the desired changes ¬– so management isn’t walking the talk.”
Tackling employee resistance to change is mostly about attitude and mindset, according to Engelina, who has had a hand in many transformations, including a strategy overhaul and rebrand for manufacturing firm Flex, an imperative that spanned 100 sites, 30 countries, and 200,000 employees.
Typically, she explains, there are three groups of thought when it comes to change. “There’s a third of the organization that aren’t on board. They’re stubborn. They’re going to dig in their heels. There’s a third of the organization in the middle that want to wait and see. They’re moldable if you give them the right rationale and paint the right vision. Then, a third of them are on board.”
The latter two-thirds, she adds, are critical to a successful transformation. “Engage them, listen to them, ask them to lead.” Engelina points out that most people are more receptive to change than they think. “They get married, they move house, they take new jobs. That’s because they initiated those changes. When the change is imposed on you, you’re resistant. When you’re an active partner in change, you’re much more receptive.”
She stresses that much of a successful transformation hinges on getting the basics right. For example, establishing a cross-functional project management office. But be selective about who you bring on board to represent departments and lead initiatives. Engelina recalls an incident where a key stakeholder objected to a new directive. “They said, ‘I never agreed to that’. I said, ‘well you assigned [an employee] as your representative and they agreed’. It’s very easy to send an underling to these PMOs. People who listen in but aren’t empowered to make decisions. So, you’ve got to make sure you have the right people in the room that are empowered and onboard.”
When it comes to the first group of employees, who are anti-change, Engelina advises that you should think seriously about whether these people are right for your team. “They might be an excellent contributor, but they could be the person that’s holding you back.”
Engelina Jaspers will be speaking at ITSMA’s Marketing Leadership Forum on 24 May. In her session, “How to Outsmart Change and Future-Proof Your Team and Your Career”, Engelina will share more insights, experiences, and recommendations from her 30+ year career in marketing on what the winners do to manage and lead through uncertainty. Click here to register and find out more.
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