The most effective change management process puts people first

Slack's VP of Customer Success Christina Kosmowski shares tips on leading teams through large-scale digital transformation

A graphic image depicting a network of employees collaboration: the result of an effective change management process

Companies that find themselves outpaced in the market don’t get there because of a lack of experience or scale but a failure to pull teams together quickly. By now, most organizations know that customer experience is queen, but they’re also quickly realizing that it’s employee experience that paves the way to a successful customer experience. Happy teams make for happy customers.

Fundamental to supporting teams in doing their best work (and providing customers with the best service) is digital transformation—the adoption of digital processes and tools to achieve strategic business goals. But it’s not just about implementing the trendiest technologies and then wishing your teams “Good luck!” as they attempt to work these new tools into existing processes.

Digital transformation is more of a culture shift than it is a company-wide memo. A top-down, “because I said so” mentality doesn’t work when introducing new tools and new ways of working. But when managers and leaders follow empathetic change management processes and source input from across the company, this transformation can really take root.

The majority of Slack’s customers are undergoing some kind of massive digital transformation. Having witnessed their triumphs and tribulations, my team—Slack’s Customer Success team—has seen firsthand that there’s more to be gained when you bring all the brains from a company’s various communities together: More knowledge is shared across disciplines, allowing the business to progress faster, giving the whole organization a competitive edge.  

But without buy-in from the entire team, digital transformation efforts can be like a cruise ship trying to take a sharp U-turn. In order to drive that agility, that transformation, our customers need supporting tools and a slight shift in approach when it comes to introducing these new ways of working.

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Our team’s approach to rolling out Slack

As the Vice President of Customer Success, I have the privilege of heading up a team that helps organizations with change management—streamlining the often chaotic, emotionally charged process of big transitions that accompany changing the way people work.

Our team shares best practices that we have learned from working with our thousands of customers. We start by creating a blueprint that includes a rollout schedule and interviews with employees to make sure they understand the tools they’ll be using, while our technical architects help create workflow integrations with other existing tools and systems that our customers use regularly to make their businesses run.

An empathetic change management process caters to employees of all kinds

A smooth and effective digital transformation puts teams and organizations in a position where they can take advantage of new opportunities, bolstering them for the future. It does this by delivering three crucial results:

1) Teams are nimbler and more empowered to make decisions, creating a business that’s more responsive to its customers

Many of our customers are large companies in traditional industries like financial services, media, and large manufacturing. We help them embrace the notion of constant, continuous improvement to keep up with the ever-changing business landscape.

We also work closely with customers to create a mechanism to better support that agility, which ultimately improves customer service. At Capital One, for instance, teams from across tech support, engineering, and branch offices are connected in Slack channels dedicated to solving customer problems faster than ever before.

2) Gold-standard digital tools help in recruiting and retaining top talent

An optimal digital transformation allows managers to retain top talent by measuring employee satisfaction, motivation, and team performance—another constant mechanism we help put in place. When introduced to HR teams (even our own), Slack can help speed up the hiring process by more easily facilitating communication around interview prep and candidate reviews.  

3) There’s greater transparency and more connections and collaboration among teams across the business

Whether in consulting, technology, or media, executives use Slack to receive instant project updates without having to call a meeting. This helps them move and get up to speed more quickly. In the meantime, leaders (like those at the Japanese web and mobile company DeNa) get a real-time pulse on how their employees are doing. Whether it’s an open dialogue with the executives or a straightforward announcement, leaders can see immediately what eyes are on the post and the feedback that’s coming through.

Some executives worry that setting up channels in Slack will lead to unproductive chatter, but they ultimately realize the value of bringing some joy back into the workplace. The mini-communities that form within the organization are very important, not just for building rapport and trust (especially valuable for teams with remote workers) but because it provides greater opportunity for the exchange of skills and tacit knowledge, which can lead to new ideas and innovations.

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Christina Kosmowski, VP of Customer Success at Slack pondering the most effective way to tackle change management within large companies

“One way we flip the ‘top-down’ approach is by creating a champion network, in which we deputize expert fans within regions, business units, and departments who can lead digital changes and bring best practices with them.”

Christina Kosmowski
VP of Customer Success at Slack

Champion networks are a key part of the change management process

Traditionally, large companies tended to take a heavy-handed approach to introducing new ways of working. They didn’t worry much about getting everyone on board with the change. While we define “change management” in the classic sense here at Slack—roughly speaking: working with leadership to help people grapple with new processes, tools, and infrastructures—over time we’ve taken some fairly untraditional approaches to ensure that these changes are not only enduring but welcomed.

One way we flip the “top-down” approach is by creating a champion network, in which we deputize expert fans within regions, business units, and departments who can lead digital changes and bring best practices with them.

Alignment from company leaders is still paramount, but we also know that employees need more than that to be convinced that a new tool is worth the hassle of learning and adopting it; otherwise, they’ll default back to their old ways. That’s why these champions are the crux of effective change management.

With a champion network made up of opinion leaders and influential peers, employees often feel they have the proof they need, or at minimum some indication that this new tool is worth exploring. And with champions in place, not only are employees better supported but leaders also get a wider range of employee sentiment that can be regularly evaluated. That feedback loop can then be used by the larger centralized company structure.

Another thing we put a particular focus on is creating the right experience for different kinds of end users. People’s experience and reaction to change will vary greatly when rolling out a new tool or process, so it’s important to acknowledge that and have empathy for them. Our team members are trained to support workers with varying levels of experience and digital literacy skills on how they can integrate Slack into their working lives, instead of feeling like they just have to tolerate it because they were told to.

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How corporate transparency accelerates change management

The model of the mysterious Wizard of Oz voice coming down from on high doesn’t work for modern companies anymore, at least not the ones that prioritize satisfied and motivated employees. The CEO of a big company once told me that, pre-Slack, when he used to walk into the elevator, everyone would look down. His employees didn’t engage with him because they found him intimidating.

With Slack, he started posting photos in channels of his whereabouts—business travel, meetings with customers—which helped create more of a rapport with folks. Now he walks into the elevator and his coworkers high-five him, look him in the eye, and talk to him. It’s important for strong leaders to have employees feel that level of engagement with them.

My team focuses on bringing forth executive voices through features like an AMA (ask me anything) channel, Polly surveys, or a #tales-from-the-road channel that keeps employees updated on the work executives are doing outside the office. Corporate transparency lets teams solve problems faster and communicate more effectively, as was the case when T-Mobile switched over to Slack. Using Slack to help employees better know their executives marries a top-down and bottom-up approach toward digital transformation.

A screenshot of a photo of Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield posted to the company's internal #wheres-the-boss channel which lends transparency into executive whereabouts so that employees can feel better connected to leaders.

The result: A virtuous cycle of continuous improvement

Obviously, it’s important to have quantitative results to demonstrate whether a digital transformation was successful (and we do). But it’s also important to measure the qualitative aspects of change. What does making working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive look like in the real world?

Sometimes the nuanced, human elements are harder to measure, but those are what make employees loyal to a company and aspire to do the best work of their career. Ultimately that translates to better quantitative numbers. Successful digital transformation cannot take place without a true team effort.

Effective change management: Tips for rolling out new tools

Introducing new tools, systems, or processes to a large team? Here's a quick guide.  

  • Timing is everything: The future won’t wait. Businesses can grow revenues by 23% by adopting digital strategies to make smarter decisions and train employees in emerging technologies. Paradoxically, digital transformation is not a rush job—when rolling out a company-wide digital update, test in small shifts; proceed cautiously.
  • Communicate early and often: Interview employees to understand their needs and trepidations. While leading a digital shift at the Yellow Pages, CEO David Krantz met face to face with employees across the country to hear what they were working on and what they were worried about.
  • Create a core team of internal champions: These folks will facilitate the change, help develop foundational rules and share best practices. In addition to rallying your company, they can also help answer and troubleshoot employee's questions.
  • Measure the impact: Remember that the rollout is just the beginning. Your next goal should be continuous improvement. Perform regular check-ins to measure progress, and be sure to tap into your champion network, since they’ll have a keen understanding of employee sentiment. With their help, you can create a valuable feedback loop that lends insight into where further employee development is needed. With assistance from our Customer Success team, managers can gauge success and watch teams continue to improve at using Slack.
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Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.