Stacey Kurzendorfer on managing change well

Stacey Kurzendorfer on managing change well

The one change initiative that stands out for her, defining a change vision and what it means to help people navigate change

To be a good change and quality management leader is to have the ability to drive change in the right way, which does not necessarily involve using a ‘textbook’ approach to helping an organisation achieve its goals. What this translates to is that the organisation has to be ready to “want to change”, and this always includes managing the “people” side of change.

Get the buy-in needed

In fact, the most common reason change initiatives fail is due to natural resistance to change.

So says Stacey Kurzendorfer, a multi-lingual change and quality management leader. A Canadian national, Stacey has lived and worked in many different countries, ranging from Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Syria and China. Stacey started out working in Industrial Relations before she moved into Change Management and Operational/Business Excellence and Quality Assurance roles.


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“While having a Black Belt in Six Sigma has helped me analyse defects in organisations, it has not helped me effect change in organisations where there is no ‘buy in” to use such a rigorous method to eliminate defects and run projects related to business improvements, ” Stacey argued.

Understand why people resist change

You need to know the reasons for any resistance to the change desired so that you can tailor solutions to address and mitigate (not eliminate) resistance. Data across organisations and the benefit of field research (Prosci®) from 2007 to 2013 inclusive tells us that the primary drivers of employee resistance to change relate to lack of awareness of why changes are being made, concern about the impact on one’s current job role, an organisation’s past performance with change, lack of visible support and commitment from managers and fear of job loss.

In this interview with Stacey, she discusses :-

  • one particular change initiative that stood out for her;
  • specific things she does differently in her change projects;
  • must-have communication strategies you should use;
  • the link between managing change and process improvement;
  • where to start when reviewing and managing business process improvements;
  • and much more.

What were the 2 – 3 critical things you did that got you to the place you’re at, professionally, today?

Stacey Kurzendorfer

Stacey Kurzendorfer

Stacey : My educational background got me started in Human Resources. From there, as I obtained a more international background and focus, I ventured into other fields since most of my work focused on helping companies meet international standards and become more competitive in one way or another.

What got me to where I am today professionally was continuous learning and evaluating what served me to help companies solve complex enterprise-wide issues and apply Business Excellence initiatives to drive increased performance. 

You’re a Prosci® certified Change Management practitioner, you’re an ASQ certified Manager of Quality and Organisational Excellence and you also undertook a few more accredited certifications in change, six sigma and business excellence. What made you decide to get so specialised in this area?

Stacey : My passion for helping companies be the best they can be is what has motivated me to stay updated on current practices and to maximise my knowledge in this area. I use a variety of different tools and techniques since the “toolkit” used really depends on the organisation, their goals, any past experience with trying to effect change and their culture.

Can you talk about any one change initiative that stands out for you? Tell us a little bit about the type of business it was, the kind of culture you were coming into and what kind of challenge you faced? What were you most stressed out about at the time and how did you manage it?

Stacey : The one change initiative that stands out for me relates to my experience functioning as a “Consultant” to a Canadian company that wanted to bring in a foreign acquisition based in Latin America.  Although the company itself was already very international, they wanted to automate a key part of their operation to enhance international production capabilities.

Ultimately, this was the most complex environment I had ever worked in, since it involved changing the way that people worked, a mixture of two different cultures, and three managing partners (from three countries) coming together to achieve a common goal.

Much of this change predated the company’s focus to drive “Lean Six Sigma” throughout the organisation, and the tools we used were very basic.  It took many years to achieve the desired changes but the CEO is a huge evangelist of driving change and improvement, which is a critical factor in this company’s success.  It is now recognised as one of the leading manufacturers in Canada and has won many awards while establishing a “Centre of Excellence” in North America and globally.

I know you’ve had a ton of experience with identifying business process improvements. To someone who’s relatively new to this area of reviewing and managing business process improvements, where would you advise them to start?

Stacey : I would always advise them to start with data related to the “voice of the customer” (internal and external) regardless of the industry.  This may be through surveys, additional feedback, CRM programmes, big data and so on.

However, in any organisation, there are always key processes which drive performance and outcomes.  When these processes are not working, customer needs are not being met and the data will speak for itself.  I like to take a ‘balanced approach”, however, which includes looking at customer feedback, financials, processes and employee engagement.

I believe that improvements start with leadership, and in turn, move to employee engagement, increased customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and finally increased profit growth.  The so-called “service profit chain” model is simple but it works!

For process improvement, in particular, do you have any advice to readers as to particular tools to use, books to read or people to follow?

Stacey : There have been many books written on “business improvement” and “process improvement” in particular but again, I think the model used depends on the organisation, their needs, culture and values.

While business leaders focus on the need for business change, staff will be thinking about the impact on their personal lives and their jobs.  This is a natural reaction and needs to be addressed.

I advise organisations to decide on what kind of approach they want to take.  Some organisations favour ISO Certification to show they are internationally competitive, while other organisations drive performance through a “Balanced Scorecard” approach and others are proud to be “IIP” organisations who are recognised as Investors in People.  What I have found is that generally if the solution is too complex for an organisation new to or very resistant to change, the initiative will not be supported.

My favourite “change guru” of all time is an author named Ricardo Semler, who turned the organisational pyramid on its head and wrote a book called Maverick : The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace with a follow up book called The Seven-Day Weekend : A Better Way to Work in the 21st Century.  I continue to be inspired by his ideas because he extends his transformational aspirations to the societal level both within Brazil and globally.

Can you share specific things you do differently that you believe help your projects?

Stacey : Change management research tells us that employees want to hear about the business reasons for suggested changes from their top leaders (senior management) and the personal impact, if any, from their direct supervisors.

A failure to address “What’s in it for me?” on the part of Employees (and Middle Managers, who tend to be the most resistant managerial group to adopting change) will lead to poor results.  While business leaders focus on the need for business change, staff will be thinking about the impact on their personal lives and their jobs.  This is a natural reaction and it should always be addressed.

One key strategy that I have always used is ensuring that the sponsor of the change initiative is visible and actively supports any change initiatives being proposed.

In addition, Prosci® Best Practices in Change Management 2014 research tells us that key messages should be repeated on average, five to seven times before they are remembered.  A key failure of senior management is under-estimating how often key messages need to be communicated. Therefore, a key part of any support I would provide focuses on understanding the above variables and monitoring whether key messages have been understood and how so.

Can you share two strategies you’ve used successfully to help people manage their way through change?

Stacey : One key strategy that I have always used is ensuring that the sponsor of the change initiative is visible and actively supports any change initiatives being proposed. Prosci® Best Practices in Change Management 2014  research tells us that active and visible executive sponsorship is the single most critical factor in facilitating successful change. In addition, using a structured change management approach, with trained and dedicated resources, is a critical path to increasing the likelihood of helping people manage change.

What is a change vision? What should you look for in one? What should you be guided by in developing a change vision?

Stacey : A “change vision” is an articulated vision about the desired business results a company wants to achieve through some type of incremental or radical change.  There should be compelling business reasons for wanting to make the change and these should be understood by people at all levels of the organisation.

Moreover, since a vision is about where an organisation wants to be in five, ten or 15 years’ time, any vision has to be guided by trends, industry developments  and factors which are important to enhance a company’s position on the global or local market. The company’s values also play an important role in developing their vision.  Flexibility and empowerment are new values which many organisations (at least in the West) have espoused as important in their paths to success.

What are some of the ways you can help people prepare for change?

Stacey : If people understand why the changes have to be made and understand “What’s in it for me?”, they will feel more supported in participating in change initiatives. Moreover, people want to hear about the business reasons for the change from the company leader (such as the CEO or Managing Director), while they prefer to hear about any personal impact and potential job changes from their immediate supervisor.

Since resistance to change is an automatic and natural reaction, understanding this is critical to improving the likelihood that change will be endorsed. Only then will the stakeholders involved want to participate in the changes made.  As we move through Prosci®’s  ADKAR® model discussed in your later question, the first stage is being aware of why changes are made followed by a desire to participate in change efforts.  Then, acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills to support required changes becomes easier.

Part of the success of any change initiative lies in the communication strategies that support it. In your experience, what can you say are some of the must-have communication strategies you should embrace?

Stacey : Data tells us that key messages should be repeated five to seven times to be understood and remembered. Most organisations under-communicate why they are changing.  Moreover, since effectively communicating to stakeholders about change is so critical, change management activities always include a “communication plan” as a deliverable.

It will provide details on:-

  • who the audience will be;
  • any key messages and timing;
  • how the content will be packaged; and
  • what the delivery method will be with all of the foregoing being presented to the project team, primary sponsor and critical stakeholders.

As I have said, business messages are better received when delivered by the CEO or top leaders, while personal messages should be delivered by the employee’s supervisor. The desired outcomes of effective communications are an increased awareness and understanding of the need for change and a reinforcement of why change has occurred to publicly celebrate success.

This may or may not include social media, town hall meetings and so on but should always include some face-to-face communication and a Q&A format with employee questions (answering “What’s in it for me?”) being provided by employees.  One should also gauge the perception of stakeholders to understand their interpretation of the change activities and messages that have been communicated.

What are your thoughts on how the process of organisational change happens? Are there different ways to manage change depending on the type of change presented, and if so, how?

Stacey : While I have studied different models of how organisational change happens, the Prosci® ADKAR® model is the one, which to me, takes both individual and organisational factors into account.  Simply put, the ADKAR® model states that change proceeds in five stages:

  • Awareness of the need for change;
  • Desire to participate and support the change,
  • Knowledge on how to change;
  • Ability to implement the required skills and behaviours; and
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change.

An individual who is ‘stuck’ at any one of these stages will not support change in an effective way.

Similarly, an organisation needs to ensure that individuals, as a critical mass, transition successfully through these stages.  Since organisations are ultimately made up of individuals, Change Management approaches focus on ensuring that we measure individual progress through these five stages.

They use various assessments to ensure that changes are made effectively through leadership and sponsorship which support any project initiatives underway.  Whether the change involved is incremental or radical, the process will be the same. However, what may change is the type and level of communication, training, coaching and resistance management involved.

How do you build momentum into a change initiative? Why would you do that?

Stacey : Building momentum into change initiatives serves to build a so-called “critical mass” so that enough support is present to effect the change and overcome resistance to it. Once you have assessed the unique challenges your organisation faces, from having accessed its “Organisational Attributes”, you are in a better position to define whether more momentum is necessary.

This can include :-

  • increased communication;
  • targeting specific groups with greater resistance;
  • leveraging key influencers; and
  • addressing historical or cultural barriers.

Both Lewin and Kotter also speak about the need for organisational “unfreezing” and building a critical mass of support.  Any change initiative will face resistance at some point during the project, if not during the entire lifecycle.

How do you decide on whether you need a team for managing the change initiative (or whether one person is sufficient) and how many people should be brought on board? What do you look for in your change team?

Stacey : Interestingly, you can actually use the tools provided in Prosci® to evaluate whether a team or an individual resource (separate from or as part of the project management team) should be utilised.

The answer depends on the extent of change you want to make and the complexity involved.  Once you assess the scope of the change involved, the number of people (and divisions) who will be affected and the financial impact, the answer becomes clear from the various models which are available. The most important skills of ‘Change Management” resources in terms of team members are:

  • communication skills;
  • change management competency;
  • flexibility;
  • interpersonal skills; and
  • knowledge of the business itself is also critical.

What do you consider to be the link between managing change and process improvement?

Stacey : The link between the two is, for me, a desire to effect changes in key processes which produce business results. Process improvement initiatives usually connect with some kind of Lean Six Sigma/TQM  (Total Quality Management) or other incremental types of change initiative, as compared with an action like restructuring, which will produce more radical changes.

Successful management of change ultimately brings improved results for the organisation, but both the business reasons for the (required) changes and the personal impact to employees need to be addressed.  Leadership/Sponsorship, change management and project management are the three pillars that support an effective model in bringing about lasting business change which lead to success.

Assessments using the Prosci® toolkit can tell us whether an organisation is weak (and to what degree) in any of these three areas. Only addressing the project management side of improvement (i.e. the technical side) leads to an overall less effective change since the speed of adapting to change, utilising new work methods and becoming proficient in these new work methods will be lacking. In this case, the desired business results will not be achieved.

Are there specific tools, frameworks or methodologies that you use to help you professionally?

Stacey : I use the seven key Quality Management tools to effect process improvement (such as Pareto charts, Ishikawa diagrams and histograms) and the various methodologies I have acquired through Prosci® Certification in effecting change management.

Some of these basic tools include :-

  • the Organisational Change Readiness assessment;
  • the Prosci® PCT assessment;
  • the Organisational Attributes Assessment; and
  • Sponsorship roadmaps.

These tools support the assessment of the change required by the organisation involved, the risks and challenges involved, any special tactics that may be necessary and any team preparation and sponsorship required.

On a project level, change management is the application of a structured process and a set of tools to lead the people side of change to achieve the desired outcome, which ensures that the organisation enables these changes to occur.

What do you consider to be the priority and key elements of any good operational excellence project?

Stacey : Any well-executed operational excellence project will achieve the desired business results/outcomes on time and on budget. However, the most effective process will also address the change management outcomes we want to see – which are awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement of the desired changes to produce those results at both an individual and organisational level.

On a project level, change management is the application of a structured process and a set of tools to lead the people side of change to achieve the desired outcome, which ensures that the organisation enables these changes to occur. In most cases, the majority (if not all) of project outcomes will be completely linked to people changing how they do their work.

When looking back, at all the change projects you managed, which was the most difficult and why?

Stacey : The most difficult change project I managed was with an organisation that wanted to achieve a major transformation in driving a “Quality” focus across several business units.  As the organisation was not ready to effect real change and had previously little success with change initiatives, key stakeholders were very wary of change and there was no buy-in.  While there was visible and active executive sponsorship, the project management and change management elements were not in place to make the transition a success.

How did you overcome those challenges?

Stacey : In that organisation, there was some incremental change but the radical changes desired could not be effected.  If I had the tools I now have, I would have recommended the company take a different path to address the lack of buy-in and to put in place more change management knowledge and expertise since both the structure and the company culture was viewed as sacrosanct.

What does a typical day look like? Do you have any particular practices in terms of how you manage your work?

Stacey :  There is no typical day for me since I work on many initiatives simultaneously.  However, I am very focused on customer satisfaction and organisational improvement on a daily basis and this is measured in my current environment through business results which are easy to measure and track.

PS check out my podcast with Stacey on one of the biggest change initiatives she managed.


Stacey Kurzendorfer is a multi-lingual Prosci® certified Change Management leader who has found a balance between and among project management, change management and leadership capabilities to lead the people side of change and produce desired results. She employs an evidence-based practice which capitalises on her own high EQ. Currently the Director of Business Excellence and Change Management (Habtoor Grand Autograph Collection) at Marriott International based in Dubai, Stacey improves and delivers on quality and guest satisfaction initiatives to support customer service and ensure audit compliance at an international level. She is also charged with building change management plans to lead the people side of change. Past roles include Group Director Quality, Operational Excellence at Emaar Hospitality Group and the Division Head, Programme Management/Operational Excellence at the Sino-British College, University of Shanghai Science and Technology. She holds a number of certifications in change management, six sigma black belt training, business excellence and auditing. You can connect with Stacey on LinkedIn.


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