Originally published April 2018 in CEO Insights, Women’s Foodservice Forum


An interview with Jerry Magar

By Jean McAulay

Keeping it real helps employees adapt

We expect the people at the top of our organizations to have a big vision for the future so it follows logically that they sometimes launch major initiatives that can change the very nature of our business. How that change works its way into organizational DNA and plays out on the front lines with customers and colleagues, however, is often the job of managers, supervisors and individual contributors.

“It is impressive that WFF infused change management into all three leadership tracks of Annual Conference,” said Jerry Magar, change expert and Academic Director with Southern Methodist University Executive Education. “Executives are the change agents who see what’s on the horizon and launch internal adaptation to meet those opportunities and challenges, but everyone in the organization is called on to accept, manage and help bring that change to life,” Magar said.

This is especially true as the Food Industry launches major initiatives to LEAD THE WAY to gender equity.

“Most senior executives rose to their positions because they had a propensity to act, often when others would not. But that can be their undoing in change leadership,” according to Magar. “When leaders are too quick to act, they jump past the necessary steps of helping team members understand why the change is needed and even giving them time to experience the range of emotions that inevitably come with confronting change.”

Taking Time to Make Change Work

Speaking at the 2018 WFF Annual Leadership Development Conference, Magar helped leaders understand the critical role they can play in making organization change successful. First, he points out, there are predictable responses to major change that, if you anticipate, you can create strategies to mitigate.

People’s first reaction to change is often a fear of loss and focus on self-preservation. When leaders slow down to listen and allow the first emotional responses employees are likely to feel, they enable them to work through them more effectively. Similarly, acknowledging the difficulty of change and focusing in detail on why it’s necessary can help employees move from avoidance to acceptance.

“Leaders must sell the problem before they sell the solution,” Magar said. Because they have already grappled with the issues and come to a point of embracing a solution, leaders sometimes forget that employees have not yet traveled that path and are not yet ready to be cheerlead into embracing the new solution just yet. Helping team members see the risks of not changing, as well as the potential upside of making the change is key.

Driving change that will close the gender gap

In terms of building the case for change that will drive gender equity, Magar suggests illustrating the issue from both losses and gains. Increasing female leadership within the organization is shown to lead to better decision making, better financial performance and a better understanding of diverse customers. A company that ignores these issues may risk losing market share, decreasing employee engagement and difficulty recruiting new talent.

“People need to connect with the issue personally and emotionally before they invest themselves in it,” Magar said. “That likely means demonstrating the risk to the organization’s future if women’s contributions are not increased as well as helping people tap into the moral case for doing the right thing to make opportunities more equally shared or to consider how they want the women (mothers, wives, daughters, sisters) in their lives treated.”

He also advocates strong transparency when introducing and navigating change. “Change management really is trust management,” he said. “You need to give people a realistic view of the change.” That means managing expectations and being honest with people that the process is likely to be difficult, that there will be some missteps and unanticipated consequences along the way.

Magar offers these tips for effective change management:

  • Set expectations to reality: it won’t be easy but we can do it together
  • Normalize emotions: it’s ok to be angry or to experience a sense of loss but we can’t remain there
  • Information sharing is critical: Tell what you know, tell what you don’t know, and tell what you can’t say just yet
  • Respect the past: point the way to a better future without degrading all those that worked to get you to today
  • Listen from the bottom up: Leaders may have the grand strategy for change, but they still need to hear constructive feedback from those challenged with bringing it to life

Avoid the rush to change and you are far more likely to reap its benefits.