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How Entrepreneurs Can Navigate Change By Creating an Ecosystem of Resilience Organizational resilience and effective change management thrive on interdependence and clear communication, akin to a rainforest ecosystem.

By Matthew Waggoner Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Organizational resilience thrives on interdependence, like a rainforest ecosystem.
  • Effective change management requires clear communication and stakeholder collaboration.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If an organization is built like a rainforest ecosystem, then it will have already built the internal resilience to withstand even unforeseen events, including a board of directors sacking the CEO and the rest of the C-suite.

That is exactly what happened at one of my previous companies when the board of a medical clinic company asked me to step in as interim CEO and stop doctors and nurses from walking out the door in a mass exodus. My job was to reestablish the bonds of trust between leadership and staff that allow ecosystems to flourish.

Doctors and nurses are highly employable, so with the uncertainty of losing the executive in one fell swoop, there was little holding them back. As a senior director helping support and manage the HR departments of over 50 clinics, I was ideally placed to help because our immediate problem was keeping our people.

I showed everyone how important they were to the clinic and the community they served. In turn, I asked the board to step back while I rebuilt these relationships. All through this nine-month process, I was acutely aware of our interdependence. Ecosystems are built on teams relying on one another and it's a powerful analogy for effective change management. After all, there's no such thing as a silo in the rainforest.

Related: 3 Ways Businesses Are Staying Ahead of Regulatory Changes in 2024

Who are you? The ocean or the forest?

At my current company, we recently introduced the idea of the ecosystem with a video presentation on the relationship between our departments at our all-hands meeting — and it was a real hit. Our marketing team even used the analogy externally to show the different touchpoints in the customer journey and how they are mutually supportive.

People were really excited to recognize their departments as embodying the qualities of the earth (HR), the ocean (Technology), the plains (Marketing) and the mountains (Enterprise Sales). There were lots of laughs as Customer Support saw themselves portrayed as the jungle, with the chaos of never knowing what's coming next with the calls they receive.

We really wanted to drive home the point that in order to thrive, every individual must work together, connect with others and build lasting bonds. Equally, cultivating this interdependence can build resilience. If you look at a rainforest, it continues to thrive even as it gets depleted because it is always rebuilding from within. Likewise, as a company grows, departments can get stretched, but seeing ourselves as mutually dependent allows us to tackle the biggest disrupter to an ecosystem collectively — change.

The "Why" behind change management

Nothing happens in isolation inside an ecosystem. When one department needs to make a significant change, we get all the key stakeholders in the room to understand how it's going to affect all the other departments. If it is a heavy lift for that department, we look to other members of the ecosystem to support that change.

HR's role as a stakeholder is to ensure the "why" behind the change is explained. I've seen change management fail when this doesn't happen. While our verticals, strategic plan, and quarterly goals may all be well set, people still need to know how their actions lead to the desired business outcomes—otherwise, they feel disconnected from the ecosystem.

We provide software solutions in the wellness space, and it takes close coordination between Marketing, Technology, Sales, Support and HR to deliver real value to customers. If our "why" is to help solopreneurs up to mid-market and enterprise companies, people on the ground will buy in fully when they realize customers might be taking their advice as gospel. That positive motivation then flows throughout the entire ecosystem.

Related: How AI Ecosystems Are Transforming the Future of Business

Benchmark best practices

Once HR has landed on the "why" of change, you need to ask if more resources, staff and training are required before executing. Yet ecosystems are abundant with life and HR does not necessarily need to look outside the company. We partnered with LinkedIn's AI solution to synthesize a person's experience, education, goals, and job description to reveal our "hidden workforce." Often, we find there is someone already within the ecosystem with the skill set we need.

Next, you need to benchmark best practices. This falls into three categories:

  • If you have managed this kind of change well before, document it and then aim to refine the process to do it even better.
  • If you failed in the past, find out what went wrong and do a root-cause analysis so you don't fall into the same trap. (For example, just because you once spent $1 million on marketing and it yielded 10,000 new customers, doesn't mean spending $2 million will double the gain.)
  • If this is an entirely new change, benchmark it against other organizations that have done it before.

Remember, make sure you have all the right stakeholders involved in the benchmarking. Just as fires, droughts, and logging can devastate an ecosystem, outside pressures can also expose any disconnect between departments and functions. All the components must work together harmoniously for the ecosystem to use change to its advantage.

Related: Why You Are So Resistant to Change — And How to Overcome It

Adapting and thriving together

There are two kinds of change management: change that we can plan for and control and change that we have to make quickly, sometimes in response to a crisis. When the board sacked the C-suite in my previous role, I found that even desperate situations can be salvaged, and prevention is a much better approach.

The ecosystem is a good analogy for keeping teams connected and fostering a community culture where no one acts in isolation.

As our rep from Customer Experience (symbolizing the subterranean layer in our ecosystem) said in the video: "We heavily depend on our Customer Success, Marketing, Engineering, and all major stakeholders to continuously improve our solutions through an iterative and user-centric approach." When everyone is aware of their impact, organizations are best placed to adapt to change in their thriving ecosystem.

Matthew Waggoner

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Vice President of Global Human Resources at Vagaro Inc

Matthew Waggoner is Vice President of Global Human Resources at Vagaro Inc. A successful 30-year career in leadership and management has made Matthew the catalyst for organizational excellence he is today.

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