Guerrilla Change Management: How to Use What Works for Better Outcomes

For most of us, change is hard. It doesn't matter if you have formal change management experience or figured it out as you went along — moving your practice and team forward is a significant task. Books have been written, quite literally, on the best change management strategies, and yet many of us have struggled to deliver the substantive and durable changes that we knew were needed.

And then, 2020 happened. If your practice is anything like mine, you had to make rapid-fire adjustments to processes and protocols. Teams had to go through the four stages of change management (denial, resistance, exploration, and acceptance) within hours. We successfully applied guerrilla change management, an approach that is useful in the fast-paced world of veterinary medicine as long as we learn the following lessons.

Maintain a Clear Purpose

A key challenge of effective change management is buy-in, to both the idea that a change is required and what the desired outcome should be. Without a clear vision of how things will improve, suggesting change can paralyze a project or lead to resentment. So, how did we manage to get so much done in so little time this year?

It's not that the issues were trivial — far from it. We had to quickly make decisions on what services were essential and how we could continue to offer them while reducing staff exposure, and the team had to be onboard with it all. With little time to build consensus or even hear everyone's views, a simple solution to assess ideas was needed, and that came from a shared vision.

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In many ways, COVID-19 threw the world into chaos. It seemed like regulations were changing daily and information from usually trusted bodies was contradictory or quickly replaced. If we were going to stay open during the pandemic, we determined that we needed to focus on two things: providing essential care for our patients and keeping our team members safe and healthy. These simple ideas offered a guide for assessing changes: If we were able to deliver on our key goals, then we would have the support of the team.

Keep It Simple

With the approval phase effectively controlled, we streamlined implementation. A typical project needs a plan, implementation team, and the time and resources to effectively execute. For many of the changes we were making, we didn't have the benefit of time to figure out who could do the work and when they would be able to fit it in. Instead, we were able to effectively prioritize changes that would keep the teams safe, pulling in external resources as needed rather than getting tied up in cost control.

A great example would be our move to curbside check-in and service. This was a major change to our protocols and yet we got up and running in less than two days by following these steps:

  • We planned out the major steps and had the teams work on their own protocol changes.
  • We regrouped once things were decided to address issues we'd missed.
  • As we adjusted who went outside or ordered signs for the parking lot, so that clients knew what to expect, each team was encouraged to provide feedback.
  • With quick iterations, we plugged in any gaps that appeared until things were running smoothly.

If we had had more time to plan, we could have avoided some of the pitfalls — but it would have taken much longer. The loop of constant feedback enabled us to have strong long-term results.

Extend the Approach

Much of this year was reactive, but 2021 will hopefully be less so, giving us time to catch up on the regular work of providing the best care we can. If, like me, you haven't really had time to reflect this year, pause to evaluate what has changed and you whether need to update your protocols. For example, with many clients spending more time with their pets, consider whether your wellness protocols are up-to-date or if a greater focus on testing and wellness support can lead to better and longer pet lives. As you develop a plan, you can use the guerrilla change management approach for effective execution:

  • Get buy-in with a clear vision: Does the change support your mission statement? If it doesn't, figure out why not. Correct that to make it easier to assess and explain.
  • Build consensus: Show your team why the changes support the goals you're all working toward.
  • Create a plan: Keep the steps simple and make your team a key part of the feedback loop so they're comfortable trying new things.
  • Give time and resources: Ensure that whoever you've assigned to a task has the support they need. If this is a priority for you, treat it that way.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that no matter the challenge, we can adapt and deliver by moving quickly and with purpose. 2021 is a new year. Time to take all that you learned from 2020, and be the effective champion of change you know you can be.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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