UniGroup’s Business Transformation Leader on Managing Change Effectively

May 23, 2024

Jaime Winkler Headshot
Jaime Winkler

EVP, Business Transformation


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This viewpoint is a guest post created by Jaime Winkler. Winkler is Executive Vice President of Business Transformation at UniGroup, the largest household goods relocation organization in the United States. A 20-year veteran of managing people, products, and processes, Winkler leads various transformation and change initiatives at the company.

It's said that change is inevitable, but that doesn't mean it's easy. This is particularly true for companies in physical operations. Often, our organizations are not only complex, with many moving parts—often quite literally, with vehicles on the road and equipment at job sites—but our companies are also facing immense pressure to modernize with new technologies and new ways of working.

Take my company, UniGroup, where I serve as the EVP of Business Transformation. We are a 100-year-old company with a fleet of almost 18,000 trucks that operate out of 500 sites. We also have a 30-year-old tech stack with many ways to approach modernization. We have ambitious goals that we’re already progressing toward, but it can be difficult to balance what’s worked in the past with the changes we need to make for the future.

I know that many other companies are facing similar challenges, and the pace of technology evolution is not going to make them any easier to solve. However, over the course of my 20-year career I've learned several tried-and-true best practices that can help you manage change more effectively and spark lasting transformation.

1. Don't put off change for too long.

Too often, change is reactive, and when that happens, you’re already in a position of playing catch up. When you put off decisions for too long, your conversations about transformation will become discussions about risk management and business continuity. Instead of thinking about innovation, you’ll be butting heads about how to protect the status quo while trying to drive growth, two motivations that can often work against each other.

It’s hard to snap your fingers and suddenly be proactive about change but understanding the conditions that you’re in—the industry, the economic landscape—can help you address change head on in a way that feels right for your organization.

2. Gain buy-in by breaking change initiatives into pieces.

There will always be some level of resistance to change, but communicating about initiatives early and often will help your employees understand why changes are happening. When the people who are going to be impacted by a change feel like they’re a part of the decision and can participate along the way, you have a better chance of having them accept the outcome. 

At UniGroup, we’ve learned to do this by breaking initiatives into pieces. This allows our teams to focus on a very specific problem rather than a series of problems, which can be overwhelming. Once they see that an objective can be achieved, they are much more invested in making the change a success.

3. Start with data because facts are hard to argue with.

When trying to drive change, you should always start from a place of honesty. Outline the truth of the situation grounded in a place of reality: This is where we are, these are our problems, and this is what we can do to solve them. When you can get people to understand the truth of a situation, the right decisions often become self-evident. 

Getting to that place of reality, however, can sometimes be easier said than done. I often start with data because facts are hard to argue with. However, we also have to remember there are humans at the center of the change; data is important, but appealing to people’s emotions is also critical. You need to explain why a change is going to make their lives better and why they should care. Numbers can convince people, but feelings will move them to do things differently.

4. Build confidence in small wins to beat burnout.

Here’s a fact—during times of transformation you can’t avoid change fatigue. It will happen for at least some people within your organization. However, building confidence in your vision for change will go a long way toward helping overcome burnout. Another benefit of breaking down change initiatives into smaller pieces, as I mentioned earlier, is that it gives you lots of opportunities to succeed.  

And those successes can come in many forms—it doesn't always have to be a splashy launch. When you're modernizing a tech stack, for example, there's so much plumbing that nobody sees, and the teams that maintain it often don't get the recognition they deserve. Celebrating those wins, and the people who fix the hidden pipes to make them happen, is critical.

Success builds trust, which can motivate people to participate in the next part of your journey. This is not to say that you can never fail— “fail fast” has become a popular buzzword because it can produce good results. But you need to take the lessons from the things that haven’t worked, apply them quickly, and do things differently next time. 

5. Make change and modernization about more than IT.

At UniGroup, we have a mainframe we need to modernize, but we also have a business model that we’re trying to change. They’re two sides of the same coin, but often leaders will try to focus on one side—technology—because it’s seemingly a more straightforward problem to fix. 

However, we’re taking a different approach. We’re tying our systems modernization to our multi-year business strategy. It’s helped our technology leadership team articulate risk and business continuity issues in a language that business leaders—not just technologists—can understand. We’ve made the mainframe a company-wide issue, not just an IT issue, and it’s helped connect our modernization journey to our larger business.

Whether you’re excited by new ways of working or prefer to keep things the way they are, you will be impacted by change. With these best practices, however, you can ensure that your organization can be thoughtful about change and help bring everyone along on a journey that will lead to success.


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