In today’s executive search environment, firms need to adjust to changing markets, client expectations, and candidate behavior. That’s why Deb Jerome, COO at the technology search firm, makes sure the team is trained in change.

The Heller Report sat down with Deb Jerome, Heller Search's chief operating officer, to talk about how she drives the culture of change.

Why is having – and maintaining – a culture of change important?

Debra Jerome blogDeb Jerome: At Heller, our strategy is to grow our firm by expanding our brand and delivering our services innovatively. While growth and innovation are the desired outcomes, they require change, which is difficult for many people. As a growing firm, we keep a close eye on how we are communicating change, and how much change is occurring at one time. We recognize that even the slightest change done poorly can have a negative impact on our team, which then reduces productivity and potentially leads to turnover. 

Prosci is the gold standard for change management certification. As a Prosci-certified organizational change manager, my experience taught me that we needed to create a change-ready culture to handle significant change and achieve our business results. I shared the Prosci ADKAR process with our team. “ADKAR” is an acronym for the five outcomes an individual needs to achieve for a change to be successful: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. My Operations team uses this proven process to support changes at our firm. We believe in it so deeply that all employees are informed about ADKAR when they join Heller. Understanding the change process enables us to be more agile, flexible, and innovative.    

How do you stay true to your core values while fostering transformation?

Staying true to our core values – respect, collaboration, advancement and quality – during change happens because of leadership and transparency. Our firm culture encourages talking about our core values regularly, our team is evaluated on their ability to live those values, and we celebrate behaviors that support them.

Each member of the Heller team is responsible for living our core values and preserving our culture every day. These behaviors are evaluated as part of our semi-annual feedback process and are evaluated when we recruit new team members. Heller’s leaders model our core values and highlight these behaviors to the team.

How important a role does operational support play?

I may be biased, but operations is absolutely the how behind any great ideas for change. Great ideas are just that, but the magic is to implement them and make it look easy.

At Heller, operations focuses on how the organization runs and how our team delivers to our clients and candidates. The team is dedicated to operations, not split between delivery and operations. Our job is to work with the delivery team to identify process and system opportunities and then make enhancements that are more efficient, more effective and streamlined.

Our goal is to create the best experience for our clients, candidates and employees.

What is Heller’s major differentiator when it comes to nurturing a culture of transformation?

In the past several years, we have streamlined our systems and enhanced many of our processes to enable our team to be more effective and efficient. How did we do this so quickly and effectively? We use the same process for each change, which allows our employees to move through ADKAR to sustain long-lasting change.

The key to achieving long-lasting change is for the firm’s primary stakeholder to be out front talking about and supporting change. In our firm, Martha Heller, our CEO, has been our advocate and supporter of creating a change-ready environment. Martha’s support and reinforcement of our change process is a key reason we’ve been so successful at implementing change at our firm.

When planning for change, we take the team through the ADKAR change process and we begin by making the team aware that we are thinking about a change and how we are planning to get there. It is important to us that the employees understand the change and how it affects them so that they can then align their contributions to our overall firm goals. We’ve also created an Innovation Team that makes suggestions for how we can innovate and improve, particularly in how we digitally deliver a great client and candidate experience.

What have been the challenges – and the triumphs – of this journey?

Creating a culture where change is expected and accepted is the ultimate triumph. It allows us to be agile and flex that change muscle often. But the process of change and transformation can be difficult and messy. Not every idea works out. There are times we did not get the results we expected but we learn from each experience and share our learnings with the team.

We have a clear vision of where we are going. We recognize change will be a part of our culture and we are focused on the ability to be ready and agile for what is ahead. We’ve created a strategic roadmap to keep us focused on the future. We work with functional experts who are helping to guide and think about problems we face today and how to create a firm that will scale for tomorrow.

Because of our commitment to change, we are positioned very well in the market; I am confident that our team is prepared for what is ahead of us.

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