Key Tips for Effective Change Management for Agencies: How to Adopt New Software

For agency owners, staying ahead of the curve compared to in-house teams is a crucial value driver for clients. Perhaps you do things more efficiently, or faster, at greater scale, with better quality, maybe a lower investment point. Whatever your competitive advantage is, maintaining it means change has to be your business’s lifeblood.

Amid the busy rounds of handling multiple clients, implementing new systems internally can feel messy and half-finished – but it doesn’t need to. In today’s article, we’re exploring how agencies like yours can put into place effective change management to transform their businesses. Dive in to discover the proven strategies that mean the only thing left behind will be your competitors.

What is change management within the software context?

What is change management

Market pressures and dynamic customer preferences request any agency business to adapt itself to constant changes. Digital transformation is one of the most challenging shifts, such as adopting new management software for your agency. To embark on this journey, an agency change management plan is critical to help employees realize the importance of the transition, resolve any concerns, facilitate conversations, equip your staff with new skills, and establish an open-minded company culture.

Unlike organizational transformation in the past, digitization can be particularly complicated.  It requires a technical element during the implementation, such as specialist IT knowledge. However, it also involves a human element component, as your employees have to embrace the changes and pick up the new software. 

Therefore, you need to train your staff across departments on how to integrate new workflows and techniques. At the managerial level, senior leaders must be capable of interpreting the new analytics dashboard to make well-informed decisions.

The ultimate goal is not only to employ a new system, but also to implement a flexible mindset where everyone understands the purpose and benefits of changes.

What Causes Organizational Change to Fail?

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Challenges of change management

Change management is a challenging job that requires patience, persistence, as well as motivation, and transparency. To win at change management for your agency, you first need to understand what causes it to fail.  

Reluctance to Get out of “Comfort Zone” and Immunity to Change

Research across decades, from Harvard to IMD, consistently points to the same issues:

  • No compelling case for change
  • Lack of advocacy from leaders
  • Loss of momentum when mistakes happen

We could sum these up as “fear of change”. It’s completely natural in any organization, large or small; there isn’t a company around that doesn’t deal with it at some point.

You know how it is in agencies. The power of habit makes people feel safe and stable when they follow a routine. Different client accounts have often built up their own processes or ways of working, teams have worked out how to get things moving under often stressful and time-constrained circumstances, and the thought of updating how things work can be unnerving. 

“If things don’t succeed, will my workload grow? How will I approach the client?”

Those are reasonable questions from any colleague. Likewise, there are the sometimes-unspoken questions of whether this will increase workload – and when everyone’s so busy anyway, whether it’s really worth taking the time away from client work to set up and learn a new platform or system. As changes represent the unknown, remove security, and disrupt normal habits, they can be uncomfortable changing their way. 

For example, if your employees are used to reporting via email with files and spreadsheets, they can be reluctant to switch to a real-time reporting method. 

On the other hand, while some people may want to change and outwardly express an agreement, their internal desire refuses it unconsciously which they may not realize. This is known as the immunity to change. Everyone has their personal history, emotions, and perspectives about the world. Some of these assumptions are so fundamental that they can not be changed easily. 

This is where we see our points of change management failure above emerge. Our hypothetical employee hasn’t seen a compelling case for change, and in fact, has a compelling case for resisting the change! 

Senior leaders, with greater business-wide context, could have really pushed this case, but without that advocacy, it remains unconvincing.

Then, when this transformation gets underway, it may well hit bumps in the road. Without the motivation for and goal of the change pushed throughout the agency, this is when it’s easy for team members to interpret it as having failed – and what momentum we had begins to be lost.

Cultural Barriers to Change

Cultural factors are important for successful software adoption. If your agency had a negative experience with change in the past, it will be much more difficult to launch an initiative next time. It is especially true if the common attitude in your company is refusing to change when things still work. Cultural element is hard to see and pinpoint, so it can be more frustrating.

But there’s huge potential here: knowing what causes failure means we know how to drive for success. 

If your company culture doesn’t support change, you need to gradually improve the situation. Some suggestions are rewarding flexibility, creating role models for change, highlighting the importance of change, and repeating your ideas until your staffs are more open. Have realistic expectations when introducing new software, try to anticipate resistance, and plan how to manage it. We’re here to give you some best practices. Keep reading!

The Key to Change Management Success: Your Whole-Organization Strategy

Hands up if you’re ready to turn those roadblocks into opportunities! 

Embracing a new technology requires step-by-step support to guide employees through digital transformation. There are many models to help you carry out agency change management, such as Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model which provides a comprehensive guide for companies.

With our experience, combined with Kotter’s model, we’ve summarized 3 stages to manage change:

  1. Plan: know what to expect in the change and prepare for it.
  2. Implement: communicate to your team the reasons and the impact of the new software, provide training, build a constructive feedback approach, set short-term objectives, and monitor the result. 
  3. Support afterward: promote digital changes and flexible thinking as a part of your company culture.

Now let’s get down to the stages.

Stage 1: Plan 

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Plan for change management

To neutralize those roadblocks, you need a plan – for every part of your business. It doesn’t need to be a long plan or beautifully presented, but it must cover how you’re going to push change throughout all your teams and levels. 

If there’s one thing to keep from this article, it’s to plan before you start anything. There are plenty of things out there that are better when they’re organic, but change isn’t one of them! It must be purposeful and driven.

Set? Here’s what’s going in your plan:

  1. Define Your Change Initiative

Sit down and decide exactly what the change initiative really is. 

Start with your current pain points and the end state you want to reach. How will you achieve this? What are the resources you need to design and execute the change? Will you need a 3rd party expertise? 

For example, imagine the end state is to build a single source of truth for workflow management so that your organization can scale fast. To get there, you need to implement a platform that will let you keep all inputs and outputs in one place. For that to be possible, you need to select the right tool. Continue this way until you hit back at your current state.

Now you’ve got the hard facts of your change initiative, but leadership is just as much about empathy. Digital adoption isn’t about mere technology, it’s about humans — the factor that drives changes and generates benefits of the digital shift. 

You now need to translate how this end state will impact team members. Start brainstorming outward from each of your steps to add how it will benefit teams or processes, and why it is necessary to apply new software. Once you can answer “what’s in it for me?” for each of your teams, then you’ve got the core information you require. 

In our example above, you might add that project managers can immediately track spending from the same place they’re sending out work orders. That’s something directly relatable for people in those positions that helps to get them on board in a more direct way than your overall “why” of being able to scale fast.

Finally, think about what you expect to see in a successful change. How will you measure the impact of the change? Set your KPIs to monitor and adjust your methods if needed.

These aspects help you create a practical look into the existing issues and how to foster digital adoption.

  1. Select the Sponsor and Change Champions

The next step is to work out how you’re going to spread this throughout the agency. You’re going to need people identified and on board for two key roles:

  1. The Sponsor

Your sponsor is the public owner of the engagement initiative. Their job is to push the initiative effectively throughout the whole agency – to get people excited about the change and to keep the momentum going throughout the project duration. 

They will work particularly closely with your executive or leadership team, especially in medium and larger agencies. They’ll be crucial in using their position as the project leader in getting these key senior stakeholders on board and working towards the same goals. 

As someone who will be the face of the project throughout the company and who will be dealing with key people, they need to have genuine legitimacy, public recognition, and influence in the business. 

They might come from a different background than the system you’re implementing; your key priority is looking for those leadership qualities. You might find your top tech leaders don’t have influence across the business. On the other hand, perhaps you identify a senior delivery manager who works closely with all teams and does have that influence, while still possessing the authority to get executive buy-in.

  1. Change Champions

Your change champions sit under the sponsor and help him or her in embedding the change in specific parts of the organization. Where the sponsor provides company-wide legitimacy to the project as a key priority and wins buy-in from senior stakeholders, change champions translate that into action on the ground in their own specialist areas.

If your ears pricked up at “specialist areas”, then you’re probably on the right track: change champions are people at all levels who are picked for their ability to influence and encourage particular areas of the business. This team should be a mix of employees from multiple departments and can influence opinions. They are the early adopters of the software and encourage others to do the same.

For example, a change champion in your accounts team will work specifically on driving the initiative within accounts. They might not be well known across the business like the sponsor, but that doesn’t matter! You’re looking for people who can lead within their teams and who ideally have a proven track record of implementing changes in that environment.

The most effective way to structure these change champions will depend on how your business is set up.  

For example, if you’re dealing with a larger company with a lot of managerial layers (like if it’s an agency that has acquired other brands, for instance), then you might go for what the Project Management Institute terms a “cascading model”. In this case, you spread change champions throughout each layer of the hierarchy. The main sponsor pushes initiatives out to mid-level managerial sponsors, and these to lower-level managerial sponsors, and so on.

If, however, you’re working in a flat hierarchy, perhaps with a geographically distributed team, then you may use more of a “pod model”. This way, you’d assign champions to cross-seniority “pods”, containing people grouped by, for example, project work rather than seniority – or perhaps by geography – and each would work under the main sponsor.

Stage 2: Implement 

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Implement the change

You’ve got your key influencers on board, but it’s still valuable to set out how they will work within the company to keep everyone informed and motivated. Here’s how.

2.1. Create a Sense of Urgency

Convey the vision for change as an urgent and exciting opportunity. Urgency creates a bigger picture behind the need for change. It helps push intentions to real actions and minimize delays. 

2.2. Convince Your Organization that Change is Needed

Next, you need to persuade your company that the change is essential. At this point, you may find resistance among different teams. 

To break down resistance, you must showcase how the software will benefit people impacted, increase their productivity, and reduce time and errors in doing their tasks. If the advantages outweigh the discomfort of the change, you will win them over.

It is also useful to consider the negative effects of not taking the change. To adopt the software, people have to feel dissatisfied enough with the old working way, while being confident about the new method and a clear direction to get there.

The key here is effective communication.

Decide how each level of communication is going to work, including:

  • Sponsor 🡪 the whole company
  • Sponsor 🡪 executive/senior team
  • Sponsor 🡪 change champions 
  • Change champions 🡪 sponsor
  • Change champions 🡪 assigned teams/groupings

You must detect the causes of resistance, explain your vision, and persuade people to join you. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all, there are some good principles to follow:

  • Whole-Company Comms:
    Set up a dedicated channel through whatever medium suits your business best – it might be a Slack channel or Teams group for announcements, or it might even be a regular “town hall” meeting for small, in-person offices. This is more effective than adding into existing channels as it highlights the importance to the company goals and ensures the message doesn’t get lost among other initiatives highlighted in those spaces. From there, everyone is informed of the motives and gets involved in the change. Ensure to communicate early, constantly, and straightforwardly, with just enough details so people don’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated.
  • Executive- and Team-Specific Comms:
    Take advantage of the human connection. Use public meetings – in-person or remotely – to build a sense of team spirit toward the goal by sharing group progress and further actions, but don’t forget the influencing power of individuals. One-on-one discussions, particularly with those fearful or skeptical of the change, can be powerful ways to win personal support. 
  • Sponsor-to-Change-Champion Comms:
    Use a dedicated meeting or call for weekly check-ins to grow the team spirit and, importantly, increase accountability. Have everyone share their goals and progress week on week to keep their momentum high. Take advantage of tools like Slack or Teams to have a running day-to-day communication where people can share tips, what’s working or isn’t working, and keep checking in. Remember to set up a mechanism to receive responses about people’s concerns and doubts. 

2.3. Empower The Team and Eliminate The Barriers

When first launching the software, your employees will encounter hindrances that could slow down the process. It’s important to recognize and resolve the obstacles as soon as they occur, with the following actions: 

  • Understand the difficulties from the staff’s perspective and break them down for analysis;
  • Empower your team with the proper knowledge and skills;
  • Ensure support is available to discuss possible hindrances;
  • Convince people to actively collaborate and implement the change;
  • Allow for mistakes and draw lessons for your next moves. 

2.4. Use a Variety of Training Methods and Make It Fun

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Make it fun to change

To train your employees, you can combine various formats that make the training interesting and easy to remember. Apart from the traditional instructor-led training, you can consider online training via an LMS, videos, or in-app guidance and on-demand support.

In addition, make it fun to learn. 

Okay, we know what you’re thinking: “fun” and “change management” don’t seem like a natural pairing, but stay with us.

Research has continuously demonstrated what most of us already implicitly know: that fun demonstrably increases job engagement and involvement. So why do we still see “death by PowerPoint” and dull presentations as the norm in so many companies?

Take the chance to inject some enjoyment and excitement into change management and reap the rewards.

Design games and events with prizes to encourage the staff to participate. These activities create incentives with a psychological effect. When people see others applauding a change, they are more willing to follow and become a part of the effort.

Think about your go-live event: ditch dull hours of slides alone in favor of making it a memorable and enjoyable event. Yes, you will need presentations to explain what’s happening, but keep it informal and interactive, perhaps as a lunch or evening activity with catering. Add in opportunities for people to contribute rather than just passively listen – group activities to work out strategic elements, Q&A opportunities, discussions, team mixing, and more. Perhaps build up momentum in advance with a teaser announcement and placeholders.

You can also divide 2 teams to take a parallel approach, one doing the traditional way, and the other using the new software. Once people realize the advantages and drawbacks of each method, they will show less resistance and steadily become advocates of the system. 

As the project moves on, try and keep that sense of excitement. Depending on your teams, this might be the moment to bring out a bit of a team competitive moment! You could turn accountability checks from a negative (“who hasn’t reached their goals?”) to a positive visualization of seeing each team moving forward – we have seen a financial services company do this effectively with it visualized as a very popular virtual walk, where the first team to hit the end milestone earned themselves a prize.

If you’re running a large change management initiative, plan some midway milestones that you can also celebrate as a company to help keep the feeling of progress and reward at the forefront of everyone’s minds.  

Whichever initiatives you choose, the impact on team spirit and engagement is a valuable way to keep your agency change management project moving apace.

2.5. Define Short-term Objectives

Implementing changes is a long-term goal, and the benefits may not be seen immediately. Therefore, you need short-term objectives to stimulate people to achieve smaller milestones. This way creates a positive sense that the agency is heading closer to the vision for change. 

Defining short-term objectives also lessens the pressure. When designing these initiatives, you should consider their priority and level of difficulty. Failure to meet an objective at an early stage can demotivate people. A properly arranged list of objectives will inspire people to conquer the next targets.

2.6. Monitor the Change 

During the change process, you should monitor it closely. Check for any glitches or laggers and quickly mitigate the problems before things get off track. To do this, you must prepare in advance:

  • Visibility for your team to see the progress and know what needs improvement. You can provide this via work management software or other tools.
  • A portal or method to send feedback. Listening to your team is necessary to understand their concerns and get suggestions to enhance your change management process. 

Stage 3: Support Afterward

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Support after the change

3.1. Keep Growing with a Focus

After reaching an objective, take a look back to reflect on what was performed well and what needs modifications. If the following goals are exciting and attainable, your employees will be encouraged to head for more ambitions. 

3.2. Integrate the Changes within the Company Culture

Adopting new software and adjusting the working procedure isn’t the final purpose. You must nurture and impress changes to be a part of your company. Let your employees understand that changes are inevitable and create an open mindset for future transformation. Some advice for you includes:

  • Repeat the messages about changes across your company;
  • Make the most of the change to improve employee performance; 
  • Revise processes to reflect the change;
  • Keep yourself open to new ideas and recommendations.

If you have a series of problems that need to change, the right culture will unite everyone to collaborate toward a shared vision.

To Sum Up

Agency change management can be complex. However, armed with the knowledge of what causes initiatives to run aground and with a comprehensive three-stage plan, you’re in a strong position to make it a roaring success. Swapping getting nothing but sell-out to winning buy-in across the board and maintaining it long-term, our strategy will help you to transform your business and create a company culture that fosters innovations. For more insight on best practices for agencies, you can download our asset on effective management of agency resources.

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