Episode 407

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The workforce has changed forever, which has brought change fatigue along with it. This means how we navigate problem-solving and facilitate change amongst our teams has to change, too.

This week, I’m chatting with Jenny Magic, an expert in all things change and team morale. For almost 20 years, she’s been working with agency leaders and their teams to help implement strategies. She noticed that there were often major disconnects between agency leaders and their team’s opinions on new strategies and changes to SOPs. She set out to discover what makes teams get on board with change without getting burnt out.

We’ll discuss the best ways to facilitate change with your teams, get employees on board with your ideas and strategies, and the importance of psychological safety for employees to share openly. When you know how to facilitate change effectively, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to get your teams on board with new ideas and strategies.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

change fatigue

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How the world of change has changed
  • How to line up change so that it actually gets implemented
  • The cost of change
  • The real roots of change fatigue
  • Why so many employees start “treading water” when you try a new strategy
  • The value of co-creating change with your team
  • Utilizing confidential inquiries to get honest responses from employees
  • There is no “one-size fits all” training model that actually works
  • Creating psychological safety among team members

“The crisis of the pandemic that we lived through left the workforce changed in a permanent way.” @JennyLMagic Click To Tweet
“While the boss is saying, ‘let's return to business as usual,’ the workforce is saying ‘never again.’” @JennyLMagic Click To Tweet
“Before we know what the change is, it's really important to make sure that the people who will be impacted by the solution agree that there's a problem.” @JennyLMagic Click To Tweet
“If you are putting something new on their plate, what are you taking off? What are you allowing to fall off the radar this month so they have the time and space to do this?” @JennyLMagic Click To Tweet
“One of the big mistakes I see leaders making is they simplify their process by making one intensive training and force everyone through it instead of thinking about who needs what.” @JennyLMagic Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Jenny:


Speaker 1 (00:01):

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of the money you make. The Build A Better Agency podcast presented by a white label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies are getting things done, bringing his 25 years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, drew McClellan.

Speaker 2 (00:36):

Hey everybody. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for coming back if you’re a regular listener, and if you are new to the show, welcome. Glad to have you. Uh, before I tell you a little bit about our guest, I wanna remind you about a free resource that we have. Uh, we put out a newsletter every week. Uh, it’s pretty short and sweet. Uh, it’s usually a note or a letter from me to something that’s on my mind or something that I think, uh, you need to be aware of. And then, uh, the video of the week that I shoot, which is a two to three minute tip for you as agency owners and leaders. There’s a link to that. Uh, and then usually there’s some information about some workshops we have coming, or, you know, for example, the link to the AI webinar we did was in this week’s newsletter.

Speaker 2 (01:25):

So all information, uh, designed to be helpful and useful to you. And if you are not receiving that newsletter, the easiest way to get it is to go over to agency management institute.com. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the homepage. And under the free resources, you’re gonna see a couple links. You’re gonna see the podcast, the blog, but you’re gonna see our newsletter. And if you just click on that, you can sign up for the newsletter and start getting it every week. All right. Hopefully it’s helpful to you, uh, on a regular basis. I love hearing back from folks, uh, when they read it and they have something to say. So it’s a great way to just hit reply and, and let me know what you’re thinking as well. So, all right. Uh, let me tell you a little bit about our guests, but before I do, I want to talk about the idea of change.

Speaker 2 (02:10):

You know, um, I think change has always been a part of our reality. I think that in agency life, as in life in general, but particularly in agency life, the one constant we have is change. We are often the leaders of change. We are often helping clients recognize they need to change and helping them drive to that change. But we also internally, constantly have to be learning. We talk a lot about if we aren’t learning and we aren’t experimenting with new things, whether it’s a discovery model or it’s a new AI tool, or whatever it is, we can get irrelevant in a heartbeat. And so change is a constant, but we’ve had so much change in our lives with the great recession and then covid, and now the economy, the way it is now, and the changes in the workforce, how we work, where we work, what our employees are, and aren’t willing to do all of this huge change.

Speaker 2 (03:04):

Uh, and we’re still trying to help clients manage change on their side too. So change is a constant for us, but it’s also exhausting. And so my guest is a woman named, uh, Jenny Magic, and Jenny and a co-author wrote a book called Change Fatigue Flip Teams from Burnout to Buy-In. And it is a fantastic book. First of all, highly recommend it. And she is brilliant. And so several people, uh, we know several people in common. Several people recommended the book to me. I read it, and I knew I needed to get her on the show. And I needed you to hear some of her smarts around how to facilitate and encourage and support change. So I don’t wanna spend any more time, uh, introducing her cuz I want her to have as much time as possible to teach us all the things she knows about, not only the change fatigue we’re feeling, but how to overcome it so that we can be facilitators of the kind of change that our game changers inside our organization and for our clients. So let’s get going. Jenny, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Speaker 3 (04:18):

My pleasure. I’m happy to be here.

Speaker 2 (04:21):

So tell everybody a little bit about your background and how you came to write the book Change Fatigue.

Speaker 3 (04:27):

Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been a marketing professional and consultant for almost 20 years, and a lot of that has been, um, in agency settings, uh, either alongside or employed by agencies trying to get, um, fantastic strategies to be implemented by the teams that they worked with and the clients that hired them. And one of the frustrations I found is, um, a lot of times the boss was really happy with the strategy they’d bought, but the team behind that boss wasn’t ready to do anything with it. And there wasn’t really an implementation strategy or any plan for resourcing the change. And I just got really frustrating to think about my legacy being a whole bunch of strategies that never got implemented. So we thought about what made the difference and spent a few years practicing that with a number of major clients and big projects. And, um, I think we hit on something that’s worth sharing. So that that’s where we, we came to the writing the book.

Speaker 2 (05:21):

And how has the world of change changed? You know, the, I, you and I were talking before I hit the record button and I was saying that, you know, fatigue, the level of fatigue I think that we’re seeing in agencies amongst the leaders, amongst the staff is really unprecedented. So you had done a lot of this work pre C O V I D and, and all of the craziness that we’ve all ex, you know, experienced over the last few years. But, but what have you seen, what, you know, take what you’ve learned, what you practiced, and then overlay the reality today? And, and how has that changed things from your perspective?

Speaker 3 (06:01):

Absolutely. So I think there’s a couple things at play. Um, on the positive side, change management, what I think of as like capital C, capital m change management that you think of as like six figure multi-year engagements, um, have become more accessible. And so the tools of change are more available for lots of different smaller kinds of change. So on the positive, um, the industry has, has become a place where there’s a lot more dialogue happening, um, on smaller changes like rolling out a new project management system or, you know, putting six siloed teams in the same website project. It’s important and good that that’s happening because as you mentioned, the crisis of the pandemic that we lived through left the workforce changed, uh, I think in a permanent way at least, um, in a long term way, is what we’re feeling. And what we’re seeing is that leaders especially, um, you know, top level leaders are really ready for things to get back to business as usual.

Speaker 3 (06:58):

And unfortunately, the workforce, um, completely burned out, really figured out what they were capable of, um, found some new boundaries. And while the boss is saying, uh, let’s business as usual, the workforce is saying never again. And the interesting part is that the team in the middle, the folks who are receiving these instructions from the top and managing the workforce down below are really, really stuck in a complicated position because they used to be able to sort of say, well, you know, it’s for the good of the team, or, you know, the CEO’s insisting, or, you know, we really gotta do this. And people would maybe begrudgingly fall in line, but they would do the work. And, um, that begrudgingly has turned into no thanks. Um, right. And sometimes more firmly, go ahead and fire me <laugh>. Right? That’s really painful.

Speaker 2 (07:43):

Yeah, it really is. All right. So let’s talk a little bit about how does one look at a change that they are, they’ve landed on from a 30,000 foot level. And then what do I do with it next to actually line it up so that it actually gets implemented? What, what do, what do, what were we doing wrong and what do we need to do different?

Speaker 3 (08:07):

Absolutely. I think that’s a really great question. I think the, the most important sta um, point is to back up and think before you know, the solution mm-hmm. <affirmative> before we know what the change is, it’s really, really important to make sure that the people who will be impacted by the solution agree that there’s a problem. So a lot of times these change initiatives feel like a solution in search of a problem, or somebody at one level somewhere has a problem that needs solving. It doesn’t impact a lot of people. The problem doesn’t, but the solution to fix that is gonna impact a lot of folks. And that can be really painful for folks to feel like they’re being asked to go through a whole, uh, process of changing the way they do their work or, you know, any deliverables. Um, so that one person somewhere else doesn’t feel a pain that didn’t impact me before.

Speaker 3 (08:53):

So, um, I think it’s really important to ask why this problem is urgent enough to use some of our, what I like to call change tokens on mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you only get so many opportunities to ask people to change. Uh, they’re only gonna sign up for so many initiatives. And so, you know, use them sparingly, be really thoughtful about the ways that we can solve the problem. Um, so I think bringing people in early to the problem definition, uh, a lot of leaders don’t really love doing that cuz it feels like letting their team, you know, peek behind the curtain and, and see some of the underlying, you know, issues and challenges. They’d really rather just like do that behind closed doors and then roll out mm-hmm. <affirmative>, this is how we’re moving forward. Um, that transparency and that vulnerability is critical to get your workforce to believe in the change. And unfortunately, um, that uncomfortable zone is a place that leaders are gonna have to grow into if they want their workforce to come along willingly instead of having to be forced into these changes. So that’s the first step is make sure you’re solving the right problem.

Speaker 2 (09:56):

You know, it’s interesting as I’m listening to you, you know, one of the things that I think business owners in general, but agency owners for sure, you know, they are, they are voracious readers and learners. And so, so often in an agency, and I remember this when I was an employee long before I owned my own agency, eons ago, boss would read a book or listen to a podcast, and all of a sudden that’s like, everybody gets a copy of the book and we all have to do the thing, whatever the thing is, like, I, whatever it is. And as an employee, and I even watched my employees do it with me, there was always this, mm, I don’t think this is gonna stick. So, and, and I don’t even think this is a problem. I don’t think we have to do go fish or do the whatever the book of the, the month was, right. And you would just watch everybody kinda tread water because they knew that it was a moment and they didn’t actually have to make the change or adopt the change. But to your point, part of it was because there was never a conversation before the book was delivered to your desk that the boss thought there was a problem. And did you agree mm-hmm. <affirmative> or are you experiencing it too? And would you like to participate in making it better?

Speaker 3 (11:06):

Absolutely. You said something really important there around treading water and, um, one of the things that we’ve seen and the research bears out is that, um, especially with knowledge work where we’re not measuring how many widgets you spit out at the end of the day mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, it is really easy to sandbag a project with a smile. It is really easy to sort of go like, yeah, boss, I’ll read the book totally. I I I’m here for it and tread water and to not make forward movement. And I think that’s one of the things we’re seeing a lot of puzzlement come from upper management around. You know, everybody smiles and they say they’re on board and, and they get along, but like, nothing’s, we’re not seeing the results. We’re not getting the outcome we want. And it’s like, they’re probably not really honestly on board with this. Right. And that’s a place where you have to sort of rewind, get that buy-in and make sure they really feel like, you know, this is worth their time and attention to come along willingly.

Speaker 2 (11:57):

So is there a, a best way or a better way to take that step back and talk about what you perceive to be a problem to gut check if other people are struggling with it too?

Speaker 3 (12:10):

I mean, I think this is just organic and, and dependent on the culture of the team you’re in, but I think it really just comes down to, um, are the people that are going to be impacted aware that we have a problem? So if you’re like, okay, we definitely need to get better at this, it’s gonna mean a new system, a new tool, a new process that’s gonna mean these, this group of people are gonna have to do something differently if you can sort of project into the future and make sure those people who are impacted don’t feel surprised at the solution. So I think it, it often starts with small groups at the top, you know, pressure testing. Like, is this something we care about? I think an important question leaders fail to ask is, how much money are we willing to put behind solving this?

Speaker 3 (12:47):

Because a lot of times there’s a pain point we go through this process, we sort of come up with a solution. Maybe there’s like an R F P for a new tool, and then there’s like, oh, we don’t have budget for that. It’s so much smarter when you’re feeling an itch or feeling a pain and like, we ought to do something different to say, I want us to, I’ll read this book and do this different and I’m willing to put X thousand dollars behind training, implementation, uh, outsourcing work that’s gonna need to pause while we stop and do this change thing. Like, mm. There’s always all change has a cost. And so if a leader’s like, yeah, I definitely want this to change and I’m willing to put no time and no resources behind it, then it’s an instant no because you know that there’s not gonna be that support and it’s just gonna get like the smile and tread water. Right.

Speaker 2 (13:30):

Well, and it seems like it’s not just about money, right? It’s also about time. Like, how much time, how much of my people’s time am I willing to invest? So, you know, back to what you were saying about the workforce changing, you know, I can remember a time when I was younger in my career and my boss would do the same thing that I eventually did, which was I read a book on a plane and brought it back and it was, you know, the holy grail and it was gonna fix everything. But we got assigned the book and we were supposed to read it on our own time, right? Because we didn’t get time off to read the book. We didn’t get, there was no time to have the team meeting or whatever. And I think sometimes agency owners are still expecting their folks to do a lot of this kind of work in the off hours.

Speaker 2 (14:14):

And I think it’s part of the pushback they’re getting that you mentioned, which is, you know, the, the workforce is saying, look, I, I am setting different boundaries than you did when you were at your stage of when you were at my stage of your career, when you were working 60 and 70 hours and everybody knew that you didn’t leave the office till the boss left the office, or whatever it is that all of that’s changed. And so I think it’s not only I’m gonna invest the money, but also how am I gonna allocate time during the workday and for how long and for what people to actually implement this kind of change.

Speaker 3 (14:49):

Absolutely. Uh, you know, we like to say it’s very unlikely that your staff is sitting around like 20% of their time with nothing to do. Right? Like they’re probably fully booked. Um, and all change takes time, even if it’s just the mental processing time to like adapt and, and rethink a process. Um, so again, if you’re, if you are putting something new on their plate, what are you taking off? What are you pausing? What are you allowing to fall off the radar this month so that they have the time and space to do this? And, and to your point, uh, not only has the sort of mental model about, uh, you know, like staying in the office and the hours in the office and using hours as a, uh, reliable metric about value, but you know, we’re not all in the office anymore, right? There’s a lot more, uh, there’s a lot less time for that FaceTime to be visible and so it’s become an even less valued metric for, for work. Um, and I think it’s really important to sort of think about what you’re really asking of your people and making sure that you’re asking what’s fair. Because if you’re not, they’ll just keep smiling and treading water.

Speaker 2 (15:51):

Right? Right. Okay. So let’s say that I, I have identified a problem as a leader. I have pulled together a team, we’ve had some conversation around the fact that we agree that, that if we could fix this problem or we could find a new efficiency or whatever it is that that would be good for everybody, then what’s the next stage? Do I, if I already think I know the solution, how do I get my team to adopt my solution? Or how do I get us to find a solution that we can all adopt and agree is the best? Like what’s, what’s the process of introducing the change once we agree there should be one?

Speaker 3 (16:36):

Yeah. I, I think co-creating the change is probably more valuable than introducing it if you can. And I think, um, one of the things we talk about in the book is creating an objective decision framework that allows people to say, okay, we’re using these criteria to decide before we put any sample solutions on the table, this is how we will know we have a good solution. Um, sort of like an rfp, right? But internal, yeah. Um, and then we feed the boss’s idea through the system and we feed our idea through the system and hopefully the decision framework sort of spits out some sort of, of hierarchy. We even go so far as to outline the, uh, research strategy known as Pairwise comparison, where you take two criteria and you compare every, every criteria to every other criteria to sort of identify which one’s the most important.

Speaker 3 (17:22):

And you get sort of like coefficient to attach to, like we, you know, the ease of implementation is three times as important as the cost of implementation for this new tool or, or whatever it ends up being. The interesting thing isn’t necessarily the math, the interesting thing is that the boss will say, what’s gotta be fast and it’s gotta get the job done and it’s gotta, you know, it’s gotta be under this budget. And the team will say, and I need a great user experience cuz if it takes me 47 minutes to input every time you want me to fill out this form, it’s not gonna be sustainable. Right. Um, and they’ll come up with lot, the people who are gonna use the tool will come up with more nuanced or, or the change, whatever it is we’re doing. They’ll come up with a more nuanced set of criteria for the solution.

Speaker 3 (18:03):

And the best part is people who help define the criteria for the solution are much more likely to adopt it. Sure. Even if like we threw, we, we put three, uh, three solutions through this decision framework and um, the one that they picked, the, their preferred one didn’t win, they can still often get behind it because they can see like where in the structure of that decision framework mm-hmm. <affirmative> their idea how to weakness. Um, and you know, it just becomes a little bit easier to accept. It does, it’s not personal, it’s subjective. It’s like we actually tried to use a model to think through what we’re gonna do.

Speaker 2 (18:36):

Yeah. Okay. So before we get into like how to implement the change, I’m, cuz I’m thinking about this from a dual perspective. I’m thinking about how we, how we apply this in our own business at our agency, but also to your point, our job as agencies is to help clients make change. I mean, and, and all of us are taking ideas and strategies to clients at a le at some level and they either have to sell it up the food chain or down the food chain. So yeah. How do we take these exact same two steps, which is sort of gets agreement that there is a problem and then sort of pressure test potential solutions. How do you recommend we bring that methodology into a client setting?

Speaker 3 (19:19):

Yeah. So one of the things I think is incredibly valuable in your discovery process is talking to the folks who are gonna be impacted, not just the folks who are gonna see the, you know, like for example, if you’re trying to get, you know, uh, younger investors to interact on social media and become clients of your financial services company, right? Like the people who care about that are in the, the, you know, the, the marketing suite and the metrics and you know, they’re, they’re at the top, but there’s also someone who’s like down at the bottom writing the post, right. Thinking about who’s gonna be impacted and what they know. Um, and our strategy we like to use is, um, we refer to it as confidential inquiry. And you can just imagine from the, that show get smart in the sixties, like the cone of silence coming down.

Speaker 3 (19:58):

Yeah. And we just have these private, private conversations where I’ll get someone on a 30 minute call and I’ll say, look, nothing you say will be directly quoted. Nothing you say will even be attributable to you in any way. We’ll be super careful not to drop hints about where you sit in the org or anything like that. And I’m gonna interview 10 other people in the same context. And the roll up is all anyone’s ever gonna see from this conversation. Um, I have found most of the time I can identify after that early discovery phase conversation with the people who are gonna actually do the work. I can identify, oh, we already tried this and this isn’t gonna work, so I’m not, I’m not doing it. Or, um, they think they’ve got it all figured out, but you’re missing this key set of research that they don’t think is important, but I think is essential. Um, you get all of this like good stuff that they can’t say in the meeting, it would cost them social capital, it would cost them Yeah. A lot to tell

Speaker 2 (20:53):

You. Or they get ignored discovery depending on their role. Right?

Speaker 3 (20:56):

Absolutely. They may not even be in the discovery meeting. Right. Right. And I get like, clients hate paying for discovery and I get it. The the hours it takes for me to understand your problem as the consultant, as the agency, um, feel expensive to the client. And so we have reframed it as actually, um, one of our deliverables is a change readiness assessment. Mm-hmm. And so I need to talk to the people who are gonna be doing the work so that I can predict their readiness to do the work. So unless it, it’s less about discovery and more about, um, building this readiness assessment and mm-hmm. The idea is that if you se can just, um, right. All of it’s semantics, uh, I only talk about discovery internally these days. Right. Not with the clients. Yeah. But to the extent that we can get the client on board with understanding that we wanna talk to the whole, the, the impacted stakeholders, so to speak.

Speaker 3 (21:50):

And then I think the other thing is valuable. Um, you know, like I said, I’ve, I’ve spent almost two decades in marketing and my, uh, specialty was around personas and journey mapping and, and customizing messaging to audience needs. And what we’ve really found fascinating is if you turn that same tool internal to your team, to your client’s team and say, all right, we’re gonna ask them to do this, you know, dramatic strategy shift, who’s on board because this will make their job easier and they’ll get a sunshine and highlights who is gonna resist this? Because they have fears about job security, fears about their own ability to deliver fears about whatever. Right? And it’s almost always fear-based resistance. It’s almost always fear-based. Sure. Um, and thinking about, okay, I know I’m probably gonna be told to have meetings with the Sunshine and Rainbows team because they’re excited, but I need also have meetings with the storm clouds and thunder team and folks.

Speaker 3 (22:40):

And that’s where those confidential inquiries can come in. And then we build a little lightweight journey map to say like, through this change, how are we gonna bring these folks along? And what, you know, I heard in these confidential conversations that this person’s really concerned that, you know, if the shift happens, they’re not gonna get credit anymore. They used to get credit because of this thing they used to deliver. Right. And that that’s not part of the new process. How do we make sure they still feel valued? And that’s a very different question than what does the strategy process need to be, right? But thinking about how the people who are going to do the work need to be, uh, compensated with time and respect and social capital as part of the change process is it’s just a layer on your strategy. And you, you know, most of the folks doing the work probably have the information they need to deliver those insights, but they haven’t been asked to. And it can be sensitive to try to deliver that without a, an understanding upfront.

Speaker 2 (23:33):

Well, and and without having that understanding, it would seem to me that there’s, you only have, you only use one, you only pull one lever of motivation, right. The kind of the rah rah lever, uh, vi Hey you guys, this is gonna be great and you’re on board and here we go and we’re gonna do it. As opposed to there are probably different levers of motivation and encouragement and support that you have to pull with different people to get everybody to do their part, to move the train along the track. Absolutely. Yeah. Okay. I want to talk more about like how we actually begin to implement the change. But first let’s take a really quick break and then we’ll come back and we’ll talk about it first again, internally for our shops. And then how can we take, once we’re good at it internally, how do we turn it into a product or a service for our clients?

Speaker 2 (24:21):

But first let’s take out a really quick break. Hey, there, just a quick interruption. I wanna make sure that you are aware that you are cordially invited, not just invited, but cordially invited to, uh, join our Facebook group, our private Facebook group. All you have to do is go to Facebook and search for Build a Better agency. And you’ll find the Facebook group. You have to answer three quick questions. You have to put in the agency url, you have to talk about, uh, what you wanna learn from the group, and you have to promise to behave yourself. And that’s it. And then we’ll let you in and you can jump into the conversation with over a thousand other agency owners and leaders. And there’s a robust conversation happening every day. Uh, people are sharing resources and best practices and discussing everything from work, from home policies to maternity and paternity policies, to biz dev strategies.

Speaker 2 (25:13):

So come join us and jump into the conversation. Right? Speaking of conversations, let’s head back. All right. We are back and we are talking about facilitating change both inside our organization and with clients. In an era when everybody is pretty worn out from change, there’s been so much change, uh, that we’ve experienced. And you know, as agency folks, you’ve experienced it internally, you’re working differently, your employees look different. Uh, how, how they work, where they work, uh, the number of hours they work, how you motivate them for where all of those things have changed. And we’re also in the middle of a really bumpy year for a lot of you, uh, in terms of clients being really tight-fisted with their money and they’re worried about the economy. And, you know, we’ve got an election chitter chatter going on, at least here in the States and in many other parts of the world.

Speaker 2 (26:07):

So a lot of you are, are feeling like, uh, I am over change. I would like to have no more change for a while. Which of course we know is not practical. So, uh, earlier we were talking about sort of how to, how to get people ready for change to, to happen and to get them, if not at least excited or encouraged at least onboard with the change. So now that we have, we we have agreement that there, the change, whatever the result of the change is, would be valuable. We have an understanding of sort of where everybody in the sort of team, both probably the execution team, but also the team that’s sort of receiving the ball. We kind of know where they’re all sitting and how they’re feeling about it. How do we actually go about implementing the change? Let’s, let’s assume it’s something big, like you mentioned changing a project management system internally or something like that. There really is gonna be months of effort and pretty significant change in the way people work and probably is gon