Everwise Answers: Navigating Through Choppy Waters & Avoiding Mutiny

By Mike BergelsonMay 13, 2014

On the Everwise Answers forum, we post a business dilemma, case study, or question direct from our high-potential protégés and ask the experienced mentors in our community to give their advice. These are their expert opinions. For more business best practices delivered right to your inbox, sign up here.

Managing a team through a time of great upheaval is a major challenge. Your team members are worried, uncertain, resistant to the changes. How do you cope? Our Everwise mentors tell you how to handle it.


Here’s the scenario:

Sue is a product manager at a company that was recently acquired by a larger organization, and as a result, personnel and procedure changes have affected her team. Sue did a training course on the new changes for her current employees, but not all of the people implemented the changes. New people were brought in at the same time, complicating the issue.

As the manager, Sue must continually communicate changes, train on new procedures and skills, and keep the team and individuals motivated. How would you suggest Sue keeps her passion and patience while navigating new waters?

Our mentors weighed in with some great ideas, which we summarize below. To read the full discussion, click here.

1. Look Within

Acquisitions are often controversial, and can leave people in the acquired company worried about how the changes will affect them. Before she can convince her team to accept the new procedures, she must be sure she buys into them herself.

“First and foremost, Sue will need to reflect on the impact of the acquisition/change to herself,” says Lakshmi Sawitri, Manufacturing Project Director at Unilever. “Is she accepting the change? If Sue’s own conscience tells her that she is not ready for the challenge, then she should start by seeking help for herself (perhaps via line manager, HR, EAP provider, et cetera).”

Pierre Arseneault, Owner of StoneAr, also says that faking it is not an option: “The reality is that many mergers fail to deliver and she will have to be honest with herself if she does not believe in the acquisition justifications. You cannot fool your team in a change process if you do not believe in it!”

2. Go Full Time

Once Sue understands the rationale for the changes and is committed to implementing them, she needs to devote her full attention to the task. Change management is a major challenge, and she’ll need to delegate some of her usual tasks to someone else.

“Maybe appoint a deputy, who can assist with the day-to-day tasks of keeping the team satisfied and with a good amount of work to keep them occupied, while Sue can focus on the change management side,” suggests Groupon marketing manager Edward Bonilla.

3. Communicate the “Why”

People often resist change if they don’t understand the need for it. Sue needs to communicate to her team that it’s not just change for the sake of it, or about the acquirer imposing its will on the smaller company.

“In order to implement the changes most people would want to understand them, and most importantly feel that the changes matter,” says Marcio Souza, Executive Director of Marketing at NPS Pharmaceuticals. “It’s especially complicated when the team has been performing well without such changes before; that’s why Sue’s position is the most critical one. She has to really embrace the changes and transfer her enthusiasm to the team.”

4. Give People Ownership

Why is Sue running the training courses herself, asks Thomas Bernstein, Chief Product Officer at OverDog. Instead of telling her team members about the changes, she could ask them to deliver the lectures and run the demos themselves.

“Doing so will force her team members to take ownership of the change even if they are initially hesitant,” he says. “Also, by putting her team members in a leadership role, Sue will help them establish personal brands in the new organization that others recognize and admire.”

Marcio Souza agrees that the best way to get people on board is to have them teach others: “If they are in charge of helping others navigate through what is always a disruptive situation, they will be more likely to adjust the sail fast and effectively.”

5. Hold Them Accountable

Ultimately, Sue might have to get tough. These changes are mandated by the new company, after all. If she’s done everything she can to communicate clearly and help people navigate the new waters, then at some point she has to hold them accountable.

“Sue should not have to keep re-training staff on buying in on the changes,” says Melissa Romagnoli, VP of Operations & IT, American Collectors Insurance. Instead, she should “set expectations upfront on when changes need to be implemented. If she does have to follow up on those who have not implemented the changes then Sue should expect the person to deliver on ‘why’ they chose not to implement them. They still have to be held accountable.”

Some people may be so resistant that the only solution is to encourage them to move on. “In a change from one organization to other, you need to be prepared for collateral damage and hope that the impact is limited,” says Abhijit Tongaonkar, Director, SW at Sandvine Technologies. “In her change planning, Sue needs to expect and account for some attrition and backfill. Being able to manage this risk would make her job simple. Some would go on their own, and in some cases, she has to ask them to go.”


Looking for more ideas? Here are some books that dive into more detail on managing a team through major changes:

The Mentors

Curious about where this advice came from? Or want to connect with the mentors we’ve featured? Here are their details:

If you enjoyed this article, click here to register for the Everwise Answers forum and explore other management scenarios with our experienced team of mentors.


Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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