An Interview For Change: Khoros Expert Opinion on Change Management

Khoros Alumni (Retired)


Change management is complex and could make or break changes in process or strategy. That's why we spoke with our Khoros expert on change management to get the run down on making a refreshing and powerful change.


The half-life of knowledge in any given field dictates how long knowledge remains accurate before proven incorrect or outdated. In business, once the half-life of knowledge reaches its tipping point, radical change is often necessary to continue being relevant and functional as an organization. 


For many businesses and organizations, once they develop a functional strategy, it can prove almost impossible to change to a new strategy, even if the new direction would be more effective or cut costs. 

We spoke with Ramona Maher Khoros' Change Management Director, to gather a more informed understanding of how to make a change in your organization and, most importantly, why it can be so challenging to execute.



Parker J. Hicks: 

Ramona, can you tell me about your background in change management and your professional life?


Ramona Maher: 

Sure. So I have been a change management practitioner formally for a little over eight years. Before this, I was a people manager; I was an IT Director, I was a business analyst, and I was a project manager. I was in customer service, operations, and technology teams, I did front office and back-office roles. I've been around.

Ramona Maher | Khoros Change Management DirectorRamona Maher | Khoros Change Management DirectorA handful of years ago, the then- CIO at the company where I worked introduced the idea of a change management team. He said I believe change management is a discipline that we can apply in the IT world to solve some of the ongoing problems that we have connecting with our constituencies and providing them with what they want and need. He very smartly made ownership combined operations and IT team so that we got really into lockstep. I jumped at the chance to become a change management practitioner and I haven't looked back since. I joined Khoros a few years ago when they foresaw their customers' need for change management expertise in this space and created my position.


Why is it so hard for businesses to make changes, regardless of having a change manager or not?


So there are a lot of different ways we could answer that question. I've observed a level of disconnect between the people who are making decisions and the people who have to adopt new behaviors to fulfill the goals of those decisions. Without understanding the reasons behind a change, it's hard for anyone to commit to new behavior.


In that case, in your experience, why is change so hard for humans?


Because human circumstance changes day to day, minute to minute, and one size never fits all. As you know, what works today may not work tomorrow. There are changes that I observe, but they are not the only changes happening in a person's life and world. Maybe I need you to click a button, for example, but if you are also dealing with the fact that your hand keeps cramping up every time you try to click a button, I would have no way of knowing that. Or if you're trying to deal with a boss who sits right over you're shoulder every day, that wants me to click this other button, I'm going to do what they tell me. You know, it's really understanding the complex landscape and all of the possible ways that a person could be distracted from achieving the new desired behavior consistently. One of my big stories to explain this is that I'd love to lose 20 pounds. But it turns out I really love the reward of sitting on the couch watching TV with my husband and snuggling with the dogs, more than I love the choice of getting up to go exercise. There's this sort of thing, and there are decisions happening in the human brain multiple times per second. 

How do you garner that executive support to spend more money, and take bigger risks, when the requested change comes from the bottom up? 


At the individual level. It's about finding out what the person cares about and how what you're proposing will affect what they care about. You have to understand the motivations, desires, and goals of those people you're trying to convince. Generally, executives care about EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), you know, whereas generally, contact center agents don't know what that means. Understanding the typical personas of the groups that you're working with really helps understand what to focus on for successful change in a business setting.


How do you get those front-line or customer-facing workers to adopt such heavy changes in an executive or leadership role?


In my experience, you need to be transparent with people about the things they don't like that will change as well as the things they don't like that isn't going to change. If you work as an agent in a call center, it's still going to suck to deal with irate customers. The job is to deal with customers of all varieties, including the difficult ones. Having a new piece of software isn't going to change that. However, if there is a chance that you answer fewer of the redundant questions that are repeated to you 57,000 times a day because we're introducing a bot, that's going to be appealing. For each change, you have to help people understand who you're asking to do something different and what's in it for them. How are you equipping them, and what does it mean to them if they are or aren't successful?. If there's nothing more than to keep their job great, run with that. Don't sell it to them as it's going to change the world because that's not the case for them. Accurate and honest communication from a trusted source is a vital change management lever. It's one of the things we rely on to facilitate effective changes.


How would you deal with resistance to change in lower-level employees?  


There has to be a point where someone is going to say, is this juice worth the squeeze? For example, I want to lose 20 pounds. That's really important to me. I really don't want to get up and exercise, that's hard for me to choose. I really love cake. All right, well, I'm not saying I never want to eat cake again. Is eating cake once a month still good and exercising three times a week going to work? You know, people that are making these choices all of the time, it's really important to be consistent with enacting a plan and also be willing to modify the plan when it's necessary.


I would like to get your thoughts on a quote from Psychology Today magazine about a write-up they put out about a change in human behavior. 

"A linear progression through the stages is not the norm, individuals tend to move back and forth in the Stages of Change, recycling through them until the changes become fully established." 


100%. Yeah, it's totally true. When I mentor younger or new people in the field, there is often a time when they experience the reality of something being really exciting for the impacted people at first, and then when they learn more about it, they're like, oh, I don't want to do that. I desired it for a minute then you gave me the next step, which is knowledge of how to do it, and now, I no longer am aligned with you, so you need to bring me back into alignment.


What is your best and worst experience in change management? And what did you learn from those experiences? 


I don't have a single worst. I can say that there's a common reason that a change is going poorly. It is because of a lack of alignment. It is because the parties involved cannot see their way clearer to a mutual understanding of something of what to expect as the outcome of the change or what to expect in the process of getting there. So every time I have a bad change management experience, that plays a big role in it. 

My best experience was in my last company. I worked on a project that involved 1000s of team leaders at retail stores needing to use a new program to achieve something new. They had been managing their work on spreadsheets. They had their rhythm down. And when you're in a retail store, and you're customer-facing, the time off the floor is tough like you just need to get back there and knock that stuff out and get back out to the customer because your big bosses are telling you all day long about how customers are most important, but you also have to, you know, write schedules and order things and do tests and you so forth. Introducing a new process in that type of environment is very stressful. And, when you get to the point of the team leaders going, oh, yeah, that was nothing, I'm good. Then I know that whatever the new behavior is becoming so second nature that they just don't even really think about it anymore. Another great experience is when the impacted folks start asking the next layer of questions about the change. For example, no longer, what button do I click? But why do I click the button? What would happen if I click these three instead? Like, that's where for me, the best change management experience comes in. 


What would you tell people who are struggling to make effective decisions or changes at any level of an organization?


Okay, get ready to laugh. You're going to have ADKAR the s**t out of it (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement). I learned Prosci Methodology formally shortly after having seen the Martian [movie], and when he says he's going to science the s**t out of it to fix his problems, I quickly adapted it to ADKAR. And the reason is that to me, if I have that fundamental, 'hold on, hold on, hold on' moment, let me just back up and see what's going on here, I can figure out what to do. So you really need to understand where a person is in the process, their own experience of change. That way, you can understand how to reach them where they are.

The bottom line is that change is hard for anyone to make stick, and when your business outcomes are at risk, it can seem like a fruitless exercise to change a working system. However, the truth of the matter is that companies that wait, listen, and plan effective changes in their business strategy, 99% of the time, come out on top. 


To expand your learning, visit the links below and reach out to Ramona Maher at the contact information listed below.