In This Section

INCPAS Member Case Study: The 4 Keys to Successful Change Management

Aug 29, 2022
Mark Volpatti
In my 30 years of professional life, I have increasingly realized that navigating change in any organization is one of the hardest aspects of successfully leading others. Ironically, change is the one consistent factor in any organization that strives to stay relevant in today’s marketplace.

I draw much of my change management knowledge from my formal education and through experiences in the following capacities: a staff accountant at Steak’n Shake shortly after I graduated college; a senior manager at Macy’s Department Stores; and positions with Indiana University, which included serving as the COO of a satellite campus and the associate vice chancellor within the Division of Finance and Administration at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

These prior experiences inform how I lead change in my current position as vice president and CFO for Valparaiso University. In my role here, the campus is going through significant change. A new president started a year ago, many of the senior executives are either new to their role or new to the university, and a new strategic plan has just been approved by the Board of Directors and will begin being implemented during Academic Year 2022-23.

This recent experience has afforded me the opportunity to put into practice the four principles of change management I have experienced and observed during my career: people, evidence, communication, and time. 

#1 – People

People are at the heart of any change management decision because change usually affects individuals and groups. There are often personal and professional implications resulting from the proposed change. For example, a person’s identity and how she or he performs their role may be challenged because of proposed changes. As a leader, it is important to engage people early in the process. Individual employees’ knowledge and experience can provide useful insights in both the planning for and implementation of change. The level of “buy in” and “acceptance” to change that people feel is often a function of how early, how often, and how meaningfully they have been engaged in the change management process. Although it is often a process or a product being changed, a useful starting point centers on involving people in a (re)validation of the core values that should guide the intended changes.
Change Management
The level of “buy in” and “acceptance” to change that people feel is often a function of how early, how often, and how meaningfully they have been engaged in the change management process.
As an example, when I was associate vice chancellor for Auxiliary Services at IUPUI, I realized that for transformational change to occur, we first had to be very explicit in articulating our core values. When I first arrived in the position and requested the various units’ business plans, I received plans which were very transactional in nature. The plans tended to focus on increasing customer transactions to grow revenue by a certain percentage.

While these are certainly appropriate metrics, the business unit directors and I came together and collaboratively decided that we were not going to focus solely on transactions and revenue growth. Instead, we wanted to focus on the relationships with our customers, because building and maintaining relationships yield more longer-term revenue opportunities than single-instance transactions. We needed to explicitly articulate our core values, one of which we dubbed as “revenue through relationships is required.”

By engaging the leadership team in this process, I was able to leverage their knowledge and experiences, which, in turn, cascaded down to individual contributor employees within each of the respective business units. As a result, we were able to change our approach in performing our function, while still meeting our goals. Involving people in defining our core values at the outset helped drive the change in mindset and performance that followed.

#2 – Evidence

Change usually results from some “triggering event” that is driving the need for change: a change of leadership, potentially resulting in a new strategic direction; a response to declining revenue, in which new revenue streams may be needed; capitalizing on growth in market sectors, through which an expanded scope of work might emerge; or a reaction to other factors in the external environment, including competitive, economic, societal, or political pressures. 

Regardless of what is driving the need for change, a business case needs to be made to a variety of stakeholders surrounding why change is necessary. It is necessary to go beyond opinion, isolated events, and personal anecdotes to create the momentum for change. Change requires data to make informed decisions, and leaders need to use credible evidence from various sources to promote the need for change. An evidence-informed business case helps to foster awareness and acceptance of forthcoming changes.

As I noted, Valparaiso University is launching a new strategic plan. During the implementation phase, it is imperative that credible evidence is used to inform proposed changes. My leadership colleagues and I are developing and reallocating resources to support our strategic plan; making the business case to do so requires consulting multiple data sources. These include using benchmarking data from national databases; identifying best practices from peers, aspirants, and industry-specific organizations; recognizing the institution’s historical trends, culture, and prior investments; and incorporating the recommendations of both internal constituencies and external consultants. Collectively, these and other sources provide the evidence leaders can use to guide needed changes. 

#3 – Communication

George Bernard Shaw said, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” This is often true for leaders when communicating about change. Because leaders tend to be privy to the numerous factors influencing change, they are in-the-know early and have likely been discussing such factors within leadership circles for a long time.

However, leaders sometimes forget that this information has likely not been shared broadly with the entire organization; it is brand new information for employees. Therefore, the importance of communicating about change at the various stages of change management process is vital. 
Whenever possible, those most affected by the change should be brought into the conversation—ideally early enough to provide input to make more informed change-oriented decisions.
Whenever possible, those most affected by the change should be brought into the conversation—ideally early enough to provide input to make more informed change-oriented decisions.  Leaders should leverage the existing infrastructure for communicating about change: small and large group meetings, individual discussions for key stakeholders, email, websites, social media, newsletters, and other existing forms of communication that are part of the culture of the organization. A mix of communication media, used effectively, can help ensure messages about change reach their intended audiences.

Recalling the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, my former employer—IUPUI—used a variety of channels to help its constituencies adapt to change. In addition to some of the communication methods described above, leaders employed virtual monthly town hall meetings to reach individuals off campus working and teaching remotely.

Campus leaders were pleasantly surprised at the strong, consistent attendance and participation at the multiple town hall meetings throughout the initial pandemic year—which attests to the desire by stakeholders to be kept abreast of changes. It was a reminder that the importance of communication, especially during times of change, cannot be underestimated.

#4 – Time

While we tend to think of change management in transformational terms, the reality is most changes take place incrementally through the natural rhythms of an organizational or industrial lifecycle.

There are notable exceptions: when there is an event like the pandemic (as discussed above), when there is a natural disaster or other crisis, when there is a need to quickly respond to a competitive threat or opportunity, or when financial conditions swiftly deteriorate. Most of us, however, experience change on a more incremental basis, occurring over longer time periods.  Successful organizations have built the capacity for change into their culture; the goal is for leaders and employees to be ready for change to occur at any time. 

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work for organizations that have done just that:  from my early days at Steak’n Shake through my time at Macy’s to my long higher education career. Each endeavored to cultivate a resilient, change-oriented culture. Doing so required leaders to invest time into hiring the right people, equipping them with the tools to effectively do their jobs, investing in their ongoing professional development, giving them constructive feedback to improve performance, and regularly engaging them in change management processes. This also included allowing sufficient time for change to take hold and providing the resources and supports for adapting to change.

For your change management to be successful, always remember that it cannot be completed in isolation—it requires individuals and groups to want to change. It takes senior leaders to shepherd the process and the broader workforce to understand why change in necessary, including evidence of why change is occurring. A strong commitment to communication concerning the change needs to be in place, along with the acknowledgement and realization that it will take time for change to occur.

Load more comments
Thank you for the comment! Your comment must be approved first
New code

Mark Volpatti
About the Author
Mark Volpatti, CPA, Ed.D. is vice president & CFO at Valparaiso University.