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Building relationships – a necessary step for effective change management 

Written in gratitude by Krista Schaber-Chan, Partner, Harbinger 

As a change management and learning  professional, I thrive on the opportunity to lead companies through change. One of the things I enjoy the most about what I do is the variety I get from each new project as no two projects are ever the same.  Starting a new project always has its challenges, and with  many, in the role of Change Manager, I am often seen as the one coming in to disrupt the status-quo. Imagine starting off on this…it’s  definitely not easy!  Then consider layering on all of the other aspects of starting  at a  new  organization where you don’t know anyone, you need to learn the ins-and-outs of the business, and still need to prove yourself. On top of this, they say it typically takes at least three to six months to settle into a role. Unfortunately for me, I don’t usually have the luxury of time and I’ve discovered that one of the most important things you can do to help expedite the process is to focus on getting to know the people and building relationships.   In my experience, building relationships is critical and a necessary step for effective change management. Establishing relationships with the right people will help astronomically for a number of  reasons including:  1. Understanding the invaluable  inner-workings  about the company.  Nowadays you can find a wealth of information online, however nothing beats getting the inside scoop from the people that are working there.  I’ve been able to learn so much (e.g. how are people feeling about the company and the changes that are coming, leadership and past changes, what makes people tick or happy etc.) from running into people on the way to the washrooms, or while grabbing a coffee. This is the stuff you can’t find online.  

2. Helping to engage the change influencers  with their peers through the change. They’re the ones people listen to and trust and almost always have a wide-reach across the company. This is important as you alone will not be able to influence change. It’s also important to note that while some of these change influencers will include leaders and executives, there will be others that are at the front-line and other levels, so I encourage you to really take the time to get to know as many people as you can.  Another tip is to leverage your stakeholder analysis. This is a good starting point and will inform you of some of the key players from the get-go. 

3. Helping you to get buy-in from the decision-makers. Without this, you will have a heck of a time getting your project over the finish line. It’s easy for a company to say no to an outsider, but when you have several individuals within the business recommending the same thing, you have a better chance to get approval.  

4. Getting people to trust you and your decisions. Trust is so important as it enables people to open up to you so that you can support them through the change. It also helps to create an environment where people feel comfortable to provide feedback and it encourages collaboration. Remember, sharing knowledge is key to implementing change. 

5. Brings diversity to the project. Diversity is much more than gender and race, it also includes experience and mindset. What’s more, bringing diversity into a change initiative makes good business sense with some saying that inclusive teams make better business decisions 87 per cent of the time.   It also doesn’t hurt to have access to wealth of knowledge and ideas from individuals at all levels and different backgrounds.  

Now that we know why establishing relationships is important, it’s also essential to discuss how to do this. Everyone’s approach will vary, but for me I’ve found that being genuine in my interactions is vital. This means that I go the extra mile to get to know someone beyond work. I enjoy learning more about someone’s hobbies, background, and interests. I also make sure that I remember what they’ve shared and make it a point to share more about myself too. This is a great way for me to develop meaningful connections by finding commonalities and understanding what a person is like outside of a work environment. 

I also make sure to change my approach in developing relationships with every person depending on their personal preferences. For example, I know that some people prefer speaking one to one, while others feel more comfortable in a group setting. There are also those who prefer communicating digitally versus face to face.  The point here is that you need to take the time to understand how people like to interact and use aspects of their own personal style when engaging with them. 

Finally, establishing relationships is an art and takes time and patience. There will be times when you feel uncomfortable or want to give up, but I promise you that the time you invest to do this is worth it! Building relationships are not only necessary, but it provides you with the opportunity to make life-long friendships and have allies to help you get the job done well.   

While building relationships isn’t easy, I’m sure you agree that it is not only essential but also an invaluable component to effective change management.



Krista Schaber-Chan Managing Partner Toronto



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