Change is one of the few constants in life. Sergey Nekrasov, chief operations officer, chief of staff and vice president of supply chain management for Chicago-based Ferrara, put forth this statement and ways to manage change successfully during his keynote address at the American Bakers Association (ABA)’s TechCon Beyond keynote session held Oct. 27. The address was sponsored by Shick Esteve.

“Few things are certain in life, and we usually mention two — death and taxes, but I’d like to add a third — a change,” he said. “We have not gotten through a single month or year without some change happening, whether we are originating it or on the receiving end.”

Speaking to nearly 500 registered attendees, Mr. Nekrasov reflected on his experience spearheading the successful integration of Nestle and Kellogg Companies’ confection and cookie portfolios into Ferrara’s businesses as well as his hand in the company’s strategic evolution of supply chain and operations.

From this experience, Mr. Nekrasov outlined why change can be so hard and how businesses can manage that difficulty from a psychological and human perspective.

“There are countless books on how to run a major change within a company, but what often gets overlooked is the human aspect: how we think and what we feel during each stage of the process,” he said.

By addressing that side of a major change, companies can implement these initiatives more successfully and with less resistance from employees.

Knowing the type of change being implemented, the direction it’s going and where it’s originating from is critical to anticipating pain points. Changes that are revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, are broad sweeping across an organization and change people, processes and systems all at once. Whether a change is progressive or regressive is relevant; is the company having to move backward instead of forward? Another key question is whether or not the change is being originated from within the organization or by an outside force.

“When you put together the type of change, the direction and its origin, you go through what I like to call, the emotional roller coaster,” Mr. Nekrasov said.

“There are countless books on how to run a major change within a company, but what often gets overlooked is the human aspect: how we think and what we feel during each stage of the process."

Sergey Nekrasov, Ferrara

The highs and lows of a team’s emotional response to changes in their company can be devastating, resulting in personnel quitting, becoming destructive or resistant. It doesn’t have to be this way. By anticipating that there will be frustrating moments, employees can manage their expectations and not become overwhelmed during implementation. Mr. Nekrasov stressed that this is normal. 

“Socialize that expectation throughout your organization so everyone expects this,” he suggested. “It is important to convey to junior employees that things are not going to go well all the time, and that’s okay. You will come out the other side.”

A key ally in implementing any sort of change is the change agent. In every situation, people play roles: the driver is the one originating the change, the receiver implements the change, and the change agent connects these two roles. While there can be mistrust, misunderstanding and resistance between drivers and receivers, change agents can translate expectations by understanding the larger vision and the daily limitations that must be addressed for implementation to be successful.

And when implementing a plan, companies must not forget empathy. A lack of empathy or neglecting the human element of change implementation will make the entire process harder.

“All of us have been in meetings where the vision is being set, the direction is being communicated, and yet it doesn’t feel genuine or intimate,” Mr. Nekrasov said. “Unless you develop inherent empathy for when a team member is struggling or another team isn’t embracing your ideas, it’s going to be harder to achieve your objectives.”

Empathy fuels authenticity, which develops trust.

When change comes, whether it’s an acquisition, new product line or shift in process, success hinges on managing both the process and the psychological and emotional implications.

In his parting thoughts, Mr. Nekrasov stressed again the benefits of setting realistic expectations, being honest with the team and celebrating milestones.

ABA’s TechCon Beyond was the largest virtual event held by the ABA since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Nearly 500 registered attendees from six continents joined the industry’s annual technical conference to participate in educational sessions in both English and Spanish.