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Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
Despite its bumper sticker status, this quote still resonates with us.
Admin pros and workplace operators thrive on change. As the workplace evolves, we adapt our roles and the way we work. When we see a subpar process or a product that doesn’t quite meet our team’s needs, we seek out (or invent) something better. We’re happy to be the change or, more specifically, research and implement it.
But here’s something all those inspirational desk calendars and dreamy Instagram memes don’t address: the changemaker’s colleagues. Not everyone at the office embraces disruption like a Ninja.
You’ve probably found that many of your colleagues will settle for “good enough.” Others are downright resistant to new ideas — whether out of fear, stubbornness, or feeling they’re too busy to take on something new.
So what happens when your colleagues are just fine with more of the same? We spoke with eight Ninjas who successfully implemented a change in their workplace. Some shifts were big and others more subtle, but each one made a recognizable impact. And each has takeaways, big and small, you can use in your office.
Take Advantage of Change Already in Progress
Melanie Yates, Office Manager at We Are Tilt in Brighton, UK
Any Ninja who’s managed an office redesign knows that the costs and the pile of discarded furniture, equipment, and decor add up quickly. So when Melanie was tasked to spruce up her office space, she was determined to keep her efforts frugal and eco-friendly. “I set out to make the change, and I vowed to be committed to the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle),” she says.
She started with the basics, working with her Managing Director to choose desks that were made locally from sustainably sourced wood.
As for the old furniture, she found an alternative to the dumpster. “Our old desks were donated to Shabitat Furniture Project, where people can kit out their homes from a warehouse of donated items. Old hardware went to the Heart Foundation electrical charity store, or for IT recycling,” she says.
With a little research, she found pre-used, top-of-the-line chairs. And she donated the old ones to a local small business. To complete the office’s new look, she brought in plants, which are inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and visually pleasing.
Her changes have elicited compliments and praise… including an award for “Commitment to Waste Hierarchy” from the BPR Group (an environmental solutions provider in London)!
Her advice for managing change successfully? Do your research and, even if you can only make a few small changes, go for it. “Working toward your goal is better than doing nothing. If you are a small business and have a limited budget, you can still make steps toward your ideals,” she says.
Bring in the Team Early and Often
Gwendolyn Amberg, Executive Assistant at Steffes in Dickinson, ND
Email and instant messenger are effective tools for certain tasks — but organizing a large group lunch order isn’t one of them. Yet, until recently, that’s how the admins on Gwendolyn’s team were managing food orders. “There was no process in place, it was a pain point, somewhat time-consuming, and just overall frustrating with no change in sight,” she says.
To make this everyday to-do more streamlined and efficient, she used Typeform (an ONHQ fav!) to create a survey for her coworkers to use as a lunch request form. The survey includes the requestor’s contact info and some basic meeting details. “When the survey is filled out, all admins get the email notification,” Gwendolyn explains. “One will reply, take responsibility for the order, and go through the standard work steps to complete the task.”
Gwendolyn’s change has been met with nothing but enthusiasm — a result of how she implemented it. “This took me some time to develop, but I took time to address all potential issues that we would see crop up so that there are no questions,” she says. She also took the time to walk staff through the process of placing and receiving orders.
Pack Your Persistence and Patience
Devin Cecere, Executive Assistant at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne, PA
You know it’s an issue when the list of tools you use to manage your board meetings is almost as extensive as your roster of board members. Prior to switching to one universal management system, Devin was using Google for calendar invites, Doodle poll for scheduling, email for correspondence and sharing materials, SurveyMonkey for annual self-assessments. And the process still didn’t feel efficient.
“I knew there had to be a better way for me, as the primary board liaison and key liaison for many of our committees, to provide all the materials board and committee members need to be successful at their jobs,” she says.
She began researching systems, and, with the input of her boss, board members, and other stakeholders, Devin found a single platform through which she could manage all communication.
She encountered some hesitancy to learn yet another new platform. And she fielded her fair share of “We’ve always done it this way” comments. Devin navigated the resistance by explaining the benefits of the new system while making sure her colleagues’ concerns were heard and addressed accordingly.
To other Ninjas, Devin has some simple advice: “Pack your patience, don’t give up, and reach out to fellow Office Ninjas for advice and support.”
Communicate Clearly, Consistently, and Compassionately
Zoila Primo, Office Manager at Aquent in Los Angeles, CA
Not all workplace changes — even the ones that are absolutely necessary — are met with support and enthusiasm.
Zoila learned this first-hand when she took on the management of an inter-office move. While the move was crucial for better collaboration, Zoila’s colleagues had already dealt with a fair amount of transition. They weren’t interested in moving for what felt like the hundredth time.
So Zoila approached the situation with patience, empathy, and transparency. “You absolutely need to listen to your team’s concerns and assume good intentions all around,” she says. “Providing advance communication and as much clarity as possible is highly important.”
To ensure that everyone felt included and informed, Zoila created a detailed project plan that included a timeline and objectives. And when it came to drafting the seating plan, she asked for the team’s input.
Moves are never easy for anyone involved, but sharing information and the reasoning behind certain decisions helped Zoila and her colleagues navigate their growing pains together.
Build Flexibility Into the Plan
Ali Berger, Executive Assistant at Orases in Frederick, MD
When the president of Orases tasked Ali with managing their office move and renovation, she was ready. She already had one office renovation under her belt, so she was confident that she could handle whatever curve balls the project might throw her way.
And there were plenty of them: managing vendors (and vendor follow-through), finding meeting space amidst construction, working through construction noises, faulty alarm systems, leaks, floods, overflowing toilets… The project tested everyone’s patience. But Ali managed the move with grace by keeping one thing in mind: flexibility.
“As a Ninja, you have to be prepared for literally anything to happen — because nine times out of 10, the unexpected can and WILL happen,” she says.
She started every day with a to-do list, knowing her plans would inevitably shift and being okay with it. She was careful not to max out her daily schedule to leave room for unexpected issues. And just in case she wasn’t immediately available, she ensured there was an updated emergency contact list on hand for the team to use.
“In a nutshell, be proactive, not reactive!” she says.
Use Your Energy to Motivate Others
Caitlin Cuesta, Executive Assistant at Lightstream in Chicago, IL
When Lightstream brought on a culture consultancy firm to help the team revamp their hiring process, Caitlin knew there would be challenges. “This was a new process for everyone on the team, including me,” she says.
Ensuring that the whole team was on board and wouldn’t revert back to old, familiar ways was daunting. But she knew the effort was worth it. “When you boil it down, people are the most important aspect of any company,” she says. “We wanted to uncover the most qualified individuals and create an attractive interview structure to keep them engaged throughout the process.”
Being clear on the “why” behind the change was crucial to the process. “Before supporting or leading any change, understand why that change is important and how it will affect your organization — even in the smallest sense!” Caitlin says. “Understanding the why and how will allow you to gain personal buy-in because that change will likely have a positive impact.”
And if you want accountability, communication is key. “Lots of reminder emails were sent! I was constantly referencing all the training materials and the interview playbook itself,” she says. “As a team, we all understood the importance of holding ourselves accountable to the process and openly communicating with the team to hold others accountable, too.”
Above all, Caitlin believes her attitude helped her team adapt. “Be excited about the opportunity for change in your workplace! A colleague used to tell me, ‘We don’t need to be perfect, we just need to be better than we are right now.’”
Keep Your Team (And Yourself) Focused on the Big Picture
Melissa Buckley, Office Experience Coordinator at Handshake in San Francisco, CA
As if leading an office move doesn’t already test a Ninja’s ability to manage change — try doing it in half the time you were originally allotted! That’s what Melissa faced while getting ready to move her colleagues from San Francisco’s Mission office to a larger space in the Financial District.
“When we began the process of planning the move, my timeline was to get us moved in three to four months. Within a couple of weeks of planning, my timeline got cut in half,” she says. “I also still had to do all the other day-to-day aspects of my role, including managing the current office, onboarding new team members, and troubleshooting IT issues.”
It would have been easy to get frustrated with the situation, but Melissa kept her eyes on the big picture.
“I care deeply about the team and employee experience here at Handshake and was so excited for us to grow into a more comfortable, spacious office,” she says. “I wanted to ensure a seamless moving process, so the team could stay focused on making an impact and helping students launch meaningful careers.”
She started by devising a detailed project plan that took into account every aspect of the office experience (IT, furniture, office supplies, food, etc.) and created action items for each category.
Knowing she’d need reliable support, she reached out to her network of go-to vendors and let them know exactly what she needed.
And when it came to communicating with her coworkers, she was honest about how the move might impact their work. “I made sure to set expectations with the Handshake team in the weeks leading up to the move — not everything would be perfect on the first day,” she says. “Some unexpected hiccups may arise despite all our planning. This definitely helped remind folks to be flexible and fostered a sense of empathy.”
Leverage the Momentum of a Successful Change
Angela Parikh, Office Manager, Steelblue, in San Francisco, CA
Angela’s workplace change was born out of necessity. While she was helping manage employee onboarding, she realized there was no universal reference guide. “I needed to see what the whole task looked like,” she says. “And I needed a guide for repeating the process in the future.”
She anticipated some difficulty collecting her colleagues’ input, considering everyone’s workload and busy schedules. So, before engaging her coworkers, she sought her boss’s buy-in. “The backing of my boss meant I could get the guide finished,” she says. “It was treated as a priority task and, therefore, input came quickly.”
Using Google Docs, she assembled a brief but robust document that included everything from getting a new team member’s desk ready to requesting IT support and explaining the company’s 401k plan. “It massively increased accountability, cut time spent on requests and follow-up, and prevented middle-of-the-night-panic!”
Beyond its intended use, the guide has also inspired Angela to look at every aspect of her role differently. “I realized that my whole workload could have the same treatment. ‘How could we do this more easily, cheaply, quickly, etc.?’” she says. “If something feels unnecessarily complicated, then listen to your gut and take a look at how it could be improved.”
Get More Inspiration for Kickstarting Positive Change
Looking for meaningful ways to make a change in your office? Why not do the planet a solid and start with workplace conservation?
Read these Ninja stories of workplace conversation to get inspired. Then check out our article on innovative ways to make your office more sustainable for even more ideas.
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