How to Be an Expert Change Agent

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Let’s face it, change can be scary. Especially in technology. I want to change the way you think about change.

Change can be a positive thing — if managed smartly. You can reduce the stress, fear, and uncertainty of  rolling out changes, by embracing a core set of strategies.

Our Salesforce engineers come up with some amazing features. And my team, Technology Communications & Readiness, is tasked with the protection of the customers’ interests during the development, testing, and implementation of those features. As part of that process, I make sure all the right questions are being asked – and answered. I develop our strategy for rolling out this change and ensure I evaluate our strategy for continuous improvement.

Enough with the fluff…

Alright, let’s review a major change that I’ve been involved with for years. As our customers continue to grow and succeed on our platform, they use more resources. We at Salesforce love their success, but we need ways to manage it. That’s where the Capacity Planning team comes in. They evaluate ways to manage customers’ continued growth and develop solutions to keep everything running at optimal performance. One of the current strategies we use to maintain expected performance levels is the “Instance Refresh.” This means we take an instance that is nearing capacity thresholds and split it into two new instances. We’ll do this every three years or so, providing our customers with further room for growth, while upgrading their backend infrastructure.

If this change were seamless to customers, I wouldn’t get involved. However, our customers sometimes do not follow our published best practices, or they might be unaware of them. We need to ensure all our customers are following these best practices. If they don’t, they may have issues logging into Salesforce or integrations may not function properly after the maintenance is complete.

Okay, yes, that definitely sound scary. Where do you start?

  1. Assess: You want to ensure you have the full story available: What is the change? Who will be impacted? When is this happening? Where is this change occurring (for example, which instances, data centers, product features, roles, etc)? How will this change be rolled out? And of course, why are we making this change: the infamous “what’s in it for me?” question.
  2. Develop: After working with the team to assess the change, this is when you determine the most effective course of action. This is where being engaged from the very start of a project comes in handy, as you typically will need to influence the rollout strategy and start marketing/preparing customers early for this change.  Additionally, you want to stay engaged early so you can address customer pain points early and influence the development teams to adjust their strategy, if necessary.
  3. Implement: Socializing change and convincing people that this is a good thing is always easy, right?! (That was sarcasm…) Yes, you will get push back. Yes, you will get some new questions that you hadn’t prepared for. But, with experience, you’ll get better at the actual implementation. Who knows? You might actually reach a point where it’s a breeze! 
  4. Analyze: Lastly, you’ll want to evaluate the effectiveness of the process you used for the change and assess what you can do differently in the future. Were you successful? How do you measure success? Internally, we measure success by looking at the number of customer cases created as a result of this change. If we get less than 1% of impacted customers logging cases, we call that a win. Whatever your success metrics look like, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you weren’t successful, analyze, document and socialize what you’ll do differently next time to knock the next big change out of the ballpark.

What else should I think about?

Engaging the Right People

Now that you understand the process, you may be wondering who you need to start engaging with for the change. Start by thinking about all the people that might be impacted by this change, including the downstream impact on stakeholders associated with those folks.

Key players that people typically forget about include: Legal, PR, Marketing, Support, and the Partner team. Make sure to set roles and responsibilities early so people are clear on the tasks they own.

Anticipating Questions

Being a change agent requires a certain level of empathy – putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. And those “other” shoes vary from not just those directly impacted by the end result (e.g. your customers), but also to anyone indirectly affected (e.g. your support reps). Will it make it harder for them to do their job? If so, what is the larger benefit/reason that you’re making this change? Do they have the right training resources to know how to handle the change?

If you’re making a change that will impact your customers, take advantage of your internal constituents. When you start socializing the change internally, use it as an opportunity to understand what kind of questions people are asking. If I am unsure of how a change will be received, I’ll hold an internal webinar to gather various questions people ask and have our Subject Matter Expert (SME) on hand to answer such questions. Then I can later decide which questions to put in the customer-facing FAQs.

Socializing the Change

People learn in different ways. Some like visuals; some read; some like asking questions. Leverage webinars, mini-videos, surveys/assessments, and other vehicles to socialize your changes. Where can you market the change? Email? Chatter? Success Communities? Twitter? Facebook? I’ve never had a complaint about over-communicating a change, so don’t be fearful of being that person!

Be the Master of Your Change

Be patient with yourself as you roll out a change. Think through the steps. This is not the time to rush. You want to understand the implications of each step, assess that step’s impact, and have a response or action plan ready.

Take the time to plan and have conversations with the right people. You CAN successfully roll out a change at your organization. Change is an opportunity. Embrace it.

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