The Secret To Change Without Rebellion

A growing company must constantly change to adapt to its market, but change is scary for employees and they will oppose it as their default position. The painful experiences I will share with you below can be avoided by utilizing a key lesson I learned after repeated failures.

Unveiling a positive change for employees:

Standing in front of my twelve person team in my home office loft several years ago, I said, “Alright folks, let’s get this meeting started.” I switched on the projector that pushed my laptop’s screen onto the wall behind me. “I have great news! I have planned a big improvement for you; I am going to add a profit share program to our company that will pay up to 50% of our monthly profits out each month! The profit share amounts will be determined by my new key performance indicator – or KPI – system. Each of you will be rated on your work performance each month and will receive an additional bonus based on how you did.”

Most of my team members stared at me blankly. A couple looked down at the hardwood floor.

I continued on, “This KPI system will also help us determine who gets promotions and raises or who needs additional coaching.” Several minutes later, I wrapped up laying out all of the details of my plan.

“Does any of you have any questions on how this plan will work?” People shook their heads no. Meeting adjourned.

A few days later, feedback started to trickle in. One copywriter, Lynn, told me, “We think this profit share program is just you trying to manipulate us to go along with this KPI system.” The most positive reaction was from a Digital Producer, Hugo, “I guess I’ll wait and see how this pans out. More money is always nice I suppose. Might be good.”

I told my girlfriend later that week, “I am shocked by the lack of enthusiasm people had at having the opportunity to get massively more money than they had originally signed on for and had any reason to expect. I actually feel rather bitter about it towards them. Shouldn’t they be thankful?!”

Unveiling a negative change for employees:

A few months after I presented my new profit share program, I organized another company meeting.

The whole team pulled up their chairs in the open office kitchen area where we held meetings.

I drew a deep breath, held it for a second, then released it.

“Team, we are going to start using Time Doctor company-wide. As you know, Time Doctor is a tool that takes a screenshot of your computer every three minutes and a webcam shot of you working every ten minutes.”

My managers wouldn’t look at me or the team.

The team sat in shock for a moment, then one outraged team member said, “So you’re going to spy on us now like Big Brother?!?!”

I stammered, “I don’t see it as spying this helps us be more accountable to our clients and the company.”

People scowled at the ground or looked at me with disbelief. The next half hour was spent with me on the defensive, arguing with team members about why I thought it was important that we should use Time Doctor.

Feeling uncomfortable and angry, I shut down the discussion saying, “If you have nothing to hide then why do you care?”.

Over the next few months, I lost half of my team members. Quotes from our Glassdoor reviews at that time included these statements:

  • “Coalition Technologies has fallen prey to the cheap and narrow-minded nature of its CEO. He creates a prison-like work environment and expects employees to work every single second of the day: breaks and interactions with your coworkers are highly discouraged.”
  • “Trust your employees more and be more transparent with the company mission.”
  • “It’s a shame, because the employees are great. The CEO is just a terrible leader.”


Unveiling a possible negative change a few months ago:

I looked around at all of the Copy Strategy team members in my office. Staav, with her red hair, sat on the couch. David sat in the chair in front of me in his neat button down shirt. Jason and Constante called in through Google Hangouts and I could see their heads bobbing up and down on my screen.

“Team, here’s the challenge we face. As you know, we have our copy processes laid out in spreadsheets right now. The benefit is that we all can access them and change them and customize it to our needs right?” Heads nodded.  “However, as we’ve grown we are starting to have a hard time knowing exactly which pages have been approved by a client and which pages have been published, right?”

Staav spoke up in agreement, “Yes, some clients have copy we wrote four months ago still waiting on them to finally approve it!”

I continued, “We also aren’t clearly tracking how much results each individual page of copy is getting once it does go live and we don’t have a clear understanding of exact traffic increases compared to before it went live right?” A chorus of yeahs.

“Here’s my idea: Let’s take our current copy process we are using and build it into our php web application Scoretask. Then we can have automatic reports that tell us how many pages of copy are live, and what results they are generating for clients individually and in aggregate. What do you think?”

Jason, our Copy Strategy Team Lead replied, “I think that would be really helpful for us! I think that we should also allow the clients and copy contractors to use the system.”

Constante, a remote full-time Copy Strategist suggested “Can the system remove access to copy contractors after they are done, when we start doing our editing?”

We worked together on the plan quite extensively. Jason provided me a comprehensive layout of how he thought every page should look. All of the Copy Strategists partook in testing the system and finding features they wanted to add or bugs they wanted fixed.

Taking the system live meant a big increase in workload for the month before and the month during this change for our Copy Strategy team. They would have to import all of our old copy, find and deal with bugs, work through all of the myriad problems that would come up.

Change is always difficult, but the copy team was excited and all on board with what we were doing.

Why did the copy changeover in the third example go over so much better than the first two situations? What was the secret?

  • First, I involved everyone affected by the new copy system right from the idea stage. I didn’t get up in front of a group and suddenly unveil a finished system.
  • I allowed everyone to share their feedback and influence how the idea turned out. This gave each of them ownership of it. Everyone is much more excited about something they had a hand in.
  • Give them credit for their great ideas

The secret to getting your employees on board with change is to be transparent from the start, invite them to help shape the change throughout the planning process, and to give them credit and ownership for the change.

Published by

Joel Gross

Joel Gross is the CEO of Coalition Technologies.