Change Management: Don’t Let it “Just” Happen

by Chad Wisler

Sarah McGuillicudy

Chad Wisler

“Change” is an interesting verb, purely indicative of not being content in a current state, but rather evolving (or de-evolving) to another state of being. Our architectural/engineering/construction industry is founded on change, ranging from physical interiors renovation to grand campus developments, to restoration of industrial parks into green environments. Our supporting design practices, project execution strategies (IPD, BIM, Lean, etc.), and even adoption of new equipment, systems, and techniques are aspects of change that we face in our work.

Change management, on the other hand, is a key aspect of our industry and perhaps, more importantly, our clients’ realm that can either make a project successful or . . . not. More often than not, we “know what to do” and do not account for the softer side of being disciplined and proactive to manage the change. To effectively manage change, one needs to view the transition from the other party’s perspective, and manage the process. Part of the management process is to be open to modifying the overall approach in order to achieve the end goals. These can be as simple as changing the HVAC system for a client whose facility staff does not have prior experience; all the way up to managing the workplace environment change process for a company that is relocating from the city to the suburbs (or vice versa). Another common example is the ever-prevalent hot topic of open office and more structured spaces for employees, and how that affects the workplace efficiency, morale, recruitment, and retention.

The vast majority of A/E/C work being performed today and forecasted for the upcoming years will involve existing buildings/assets for our clients. These renovation and repositioning projects often include major upgrades to the HVAC systems. The HVAC changes can be driven because of the equipment’s age, condition, and/or due to the desire to increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon footprint, or EUI targets for the owner/tenant. Many of the newer HVAC systems and equipment may not be familiar to the facility engineers and maintenance staff who are charged with maintaining the infrastructure. Since change can often be uncomfortable, the best way to manage this effort is to openly review the current industry options (DOAS, chilled beams, UFAD, VRF, and ideally . . . natural ventilation) with the facility staff, engaging these individuals in an open discussion and touring the representative buildings. This, coupled with taking the time to listen to the facility staff, can aid in the overall decision-making process and therefore proactively manage the change.

Another hot topic and industry trend today is the densification of occupants in buildings. This trend started nearly 10 years ago with the consolidation of business practices for major Fortune 500 companies during the economic downturn but has actually increased in popularity, and growing companies are embracing higher occupancy levels (people/sf) in their buildings. There are many reasons stated and/or justified to support the densification of staff ranging from enhanced communication, social awareness, flattening the hierarchical structure of the company, and the often understated but more often than not the end goal to reduce the building/asset costs for a company and to improve its bottom line. Reducing the bottom line of a company is great and coming out of that densification of staff, there have been strong advances in interior planning, furniture systems, supporting MEP concepts, and distribution strategies to keep the employees comfortable and happy in their new changed workplace.

Lastly, we’ve all been told that our employees are our greatest asset and also our most expensive cost. The cost for training a new employee is significant and even more so when the individual is replacing a seasoned professional, whether it be in our own or in our client’s organization. Therefore, workplace planning and change management is essential. People inherently don’t like change. The change management process needs to be customized for each group, company, and institution. The key is to involve participants at all levels to participate in the process and have them become part of the process. Involvement leads to engagement, which leads to ownership, which in turn leads to personal investment in the decisions that are being made. Benefits include reduced dissatisfaction during the change and often a better design for them, not just us.

In summary, change is good, but does not happen successfully without having a strategic plan and being proactively managed. As we move into 2015, perhaps Jack Welch said it best: “Change before you have to.”

Chad A. Wisler, PE LEED AP BD+C, is a managing principal at Vanderweil Engineers in Boston.