In Change Management

In this ‘Chat about change’ Ranjit caught up with Jessica Da Rocha, Group People Project and Change Manager at ODEON Cinemas Group.

Jessica is at the heart of the team that designs and rolls out big changes across the company’s different markets. She chats with Ranjit about her experience and passion for managing organisation wide transformations. They dive into how she tackles these big challenges and the teamwork involved in driving positive change.

Can you share with us some experiences that have shaped the change journey for you?

It’s a great question, and I did some reflecting on my journey before this conversation. What I realised is that my path towards change really began with my studies. I pursued a BA Honours in business management, with a focus on strategy, change, and entrepreneurship. During my degree, I had the opportunity to spend time in the private sector and with the NHS, which provided invaluable insights into navigating change within different organisational structures. In fact, my dissertation focused on transforming the NHS, which was a significant learning experience.

My career then took me into roles as a PA and EA, working in diverse environments such as private equity, Marks and Spencer’s, and Odeon Cinemas Group. These positions constantly exposed me to the unpredictable nature of change, particularly in the executive world where decisions can shift very quickly.

Outside of work, I took an opportunity to teach English as a foreign language, primarily in Fiji. This led me to backpacking adventures across the globe. These experiences, of navigating foreign countries and quickly adapting to a range of cultures, further developed my ability to embrace change and remain agile.

One of the most important things I learned through these transitions, was the importance of connecting with people and understanding their perspectives. Whether it was communicating with strangers at a bus station in Colombia or collaborating with Executives across a multinational organisation, I realised that empathy, understanding, and effective communication are key in all that you do. Being able to communicate effectively accelerates the journey toward achieving your goals. My travels taught me that even when you don’t speak the same language, you can get creative in finding ways to connect with others, especially when you need to figure out even basic things, like how to get to the next town.

As I transitioned from my role as an Executive Assistant to Project Management, I recognised that my strengths were in bringing people together and guiding them through change. By focusing on people’s needs and supporting them as much as possible, we achieved successful delivery of projects and also created a journey of change that was doable for everyone involved. This focus on empowering others to take ownership of changes sparked my interest in furthering my education. So I took further training and specialised in change management.

Can you give me some examples of the type of change initiatives you have been involved in

Change has been a constant thread throughout my career. Even in early roles like internships or student placements, there were opportunities for change, whether it was restructuring filing systems or optimising processes.

One significant project I led was transitioning Odeon Cinemas Group from Google to Microsoft365, a massive undertaking managed by Deloitte, where I served as the change management workstream lead. This project spanned eight countries with diverse user bases, each accustomed to their own tech platforms and workflows. It was a complex programme, navigating not only technical challenges but also addressing user attachments and concerns. We had to facilitate a smooth transition, ensuring users felt supported and understood the rationale behind the change.

I’ve also led a number of campaigns focused on behavioural change within organisations. These initiatives involved guiding colleagues toward adopting new ways of working and ensuring they had the necessary support to navigate these shifts effectively.

Currently, I’m involved in another significant change initiative, transitioning policies from an old platform to a new one. This is a significant transition and requires them to adopt new ways of working. It requires a comprehensive stakeholder engagement and communication effort, ensuring everyone understands the purpose and implications of the transition while maintaining ownership of their policies. We are also keen to make sure policy owners continue to feel a sense of ownership over their policies, as they are instrumental in adapting and developing new workflows, that will work for their areas.

So, what are some of the stakeholder challenges that you faced how did you overcome them?

One of the typical challenges, as with any project, was scope creep. It’s natural for stakeholders to suggest additional features or functionalities when talking about new systems. While these ideas are valuable, we had to distinguish between what can be achieved within the current project scope and what should be considered for future iterations.

In the case of transitioning to Microsoft365, one of the major challenges was identifying and flushing out all the use cases. Initially, we started with what we assumed were the standard user personas and journeys—email, diary, file sharing, etc. However, as we dug deeper, we uncovered a myriad of unique user behaviours and needs across different teams and regions. Some cinemas didn’t even have work email addresses, while others relied heavily on specific tools or processes that we hadn’t accounted for.

Another significant challenge was managing the transition period itself. With users across eight countries, not everyone would migrate to the new system simultaneously. This created a complex scenario where some users would be on the old system, some on the new, and others in transition.

To address these challenges, we established robust communication channels and feedback mechanisms to ensure that stakeholders could raise concerns or highlight overlooked aspects of the transition. We also developed a triage process to quickly assess and address any unexpected issues that arose during the migration to ensuring a smooth transition.

To engage stakeholders effectively I’ve been transparent and upfront about our objectives and expectations. I’ve circulated high-level summaries of what we’re looking to achieve and scheduled focused meetings with relevant teams. These meetings are carefully planned to ensure that we make the most of the limited time available and gather valuable insights from stakeholders. Setting clear expectations regarding time commitments is essential, especially considering the busy schedules of stakeholders. Whether it’s requesting an hour of their time for a meeting or outlining the expected level of involvement throughout the project, clarity helps stakeholders understand their role and plan accordingly.

Additionally, for projects involving hourly-paid colleagues, understanding the budget implications of their time commitments is crucial. Providing transparency about the expected time investment helps stakeholders make informed decisions about their involvement in the project.

While it can be challenging at times, especially given the diverse stakeholders involved, maintaining clear expectations and a structured approach helps ensure progress and alignment towards our objectives.

Can you share some examples of the approaches you have used for managing change and projects?

Absolutely. We’ve adapted our approach based on the nature of the project, whether it’s fast-paced and urgent or more methodical and long-term.

We run a lot of high-profile campaigns as well, which typically need a very agile approach. This was the case with the Taylor Swift marketing campaign. There were a lot of external dependencies and many different teams involved, with constantly shifting requirements and we faced very tight deadlines. It was all hands-on deck at times to make sure all the elements came together for the launch.  This hands-on, sprint-like approach is intense but has a very clear and highly visible endpoint, and this provides a sharp focus and motivation.

For fast-paced projects, swift action is crucial, typically driven by external factors such as competitive pressures or legal requirements. Quickly assembling a project team and securing senior stakeholder approval is essential, setting the tone that the project will be a priority for the coming weeks.

We make sure to establish clear roles and responsibilities within the projects and change teams. Daily stand-up calls have become a pretty standard practice for us, ensuring everyone stays aligned and focused on immediate tasks. Depending on the project’s intensity, end-of-day calls have also been necessary to track progress and address any emerging issues promptly.

In these fast-paced scenarios, I often find myself diving into various workstreams, taking on additional tasks as needed to keep things moving forward. It’s a hands-on approach where you might find yourself doing tasks outside your usual scope, but the goal is to meet the deadline with the essential deliverables in place. Flexibility and agility are key, with the focus on delivering the core, prioritised requirements by the agreed deadline, while any additional enhancements are considered a bonus. We have very clear prioritisation in situations like this.

We also have some larger scale projects that lean towards a more traditional, waterfall approach, with some agile aspects, so a hybrid approach. These projects can involve extensive scope definition, requirements gathering, stakeholder engagement, and thorough discovery phases.

Overall, whether the project is rapid and intense or slow and steady, the key is adapting the approach to suit the situation.

How do you look after yourself and manage your own energy through the different types of change that you do?

It’s crucial to prioritise self-care and manage energy levels, especially when navigating various types of change. For me, it begins with a structured approach to managing tasks and projects. I’m a big fan of lists and plans, breaking down complex problems into manageable chunks. While it’s essential to focus on immediate tasks, it’s equally important to keep the big picture in mind and connect the dots as the project progresses.

Also I find maintaining a balance between control and flexibility is key. I’ve learned not to hold the reins too tightly, understanding that people may approach tasks differently, and that’s okay. Supporting and appreciating their methods fosters collaboration and creativity within the team.

Humour also plays a significant role in maintaining morale and easing tension during challenging times. Starting meetings with light-hearted conversations about topics like weather or meals helps create a relaxed atmosphere, making it easier to tackle tough discussions. Especially as I work with teams across different countries.

When faced with daunting tasks or setbacks, I often rely on humour to lighten the mood and remind everyone that challenges are surmountable. By framing difficulties in a light-hearted manner and emphasising past achievements, we can reframe the situation and approach it with optimism and confidence.

Is there any final top tip you would give to anybody who is thinking about moving into change management?

I’d say go for it. Working in the change management space can be incredibly fulfilling as you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Whether it’s helping colleagues improve their skills or enhancing processes for greater efficiency, every small improvement counts. Embrace the challenges that come with the territory, as they provide valuable learning experiences and opportunities for growth.

Approach your work with an open mind and a curious attitude. Stay curious and be willing to explore new ideas and approaches. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn along the way.

Ultimately, enjoy the journey. Take pride in knowing that your efforts are making a difference, no matter how small. Working in this field allows you to contribute to positive change, and that’s something truly special. So, if you have a passion for helping others and a desire to continuously learn and improve, change management could be the perfect fit for you.

 

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