Business Leaders Share Tips for ‘Navigating Change’

KENNESAW, Ga. (May 2, 2018) — For businesses, uncertainty has become a way of life. A tumultuous political landscape, an unpredictable economy, and a changing workforce have all come together to create an environment where organizations must be willing to change if they want to survive.

Speaking to a group of Coles College of Business alumni, students, staff, and faculty, executives-in-residence Bil Lako and Bob Kilinski shared their insights into how businesses and people can prepare for, implement, and learn from change in their organizations.

Bob Kilinski, Bill Lako, and Kat Schwaig at the Clary SeriesLeft to right: Bob Kilinski, Bil Lako, and Dean Kathy Schwaig

Entitled Navigating Change: Adapting Quickly and Effectively, the presentation was held April 30 at the Georgian Club in Atlanta. It was the latest event in Coles College’s Clary Lecture Series. Named for its benefactor, Georgia Banker William C. Clary, Jr., the Clary series connects alumni with Atlanta-area business leaders.

During the presentation, both speakers warned attendees against the dangers of not adapting to change in their organizations.

“If you don’t navigate change, it will navigate you,” said Kilinski, Regional Operating Principal for Keller Williams Realty’s Southeast and North Florida Regions. “The consequences of not understanding what is going on around you create a lot of adverse outcomes that could be avoided.”

Lako, Principal and Managing Director of Henssler Financial, agreed with Kilinski.

“You may not always see the change,” he said, “but you’ve got to be prepared to react to it so that it you can control the change and it doesn’t control you.”

Kilinksi and Lako both work in fields – real estate and finance respectively – hit especially hard by the 2008 financial crisis. Their businesses had to adapt quickly to changing market conditions if they wanted to remain successful.

Understanding that downturns are temporary, Henssler Financial took advantage of the sagging housing market and began investing in real estate, a move that paid off when the market later rebounded. Meanwhile, Keller Williams began hosting classes for real estate agents, franchise owners, and company leadership outlining new ways to sell property in a struggling economy.

Major changes like these need team buy-in to succeed. One of the key lessons that Kilinski and Lako wanted the audience to take away from the presentation was the important role that strong, effective communication plays in gaining support for new projects.

“A leader has to take a position and make that position known through all means of available communication,” Kilinski said. “Body language, soundbites, written, email, marketing, meetings. When the market went down, my partner in the region and I went to every one of our offices – 63 of them – and eyeball-to-eyeball met with the agents to talk about what this meant to our company.”

2018 Clary Series

Communicating change effectively does not only mean sharing your vision with the team, but also having the ability to listen to others in your organization and incorporate their concerns.

“When you have to get buy in from your senior leadership, sometimes that means having meetings where there is a lot of yelling and screaming,” Lako said. “One of our core values [at Henssler Financial] is candor. I want you to be able to tell me what you think. We can go at it, but once we have decided and leave the room, we’re all rolling the same direction.”

“You have to have a consistent message,” he added. “The toughest thing you have to do is make a decision and stick with it.”

The lessons shared by the presenters left an impact on the Coles College alumni in attendance, who recognize that change management is a vital skill that all professionals need to master.

Karen Murstig, who graduated from the MBA program in 2009, said that the most valuable lesson she learned from Kilinski and Lako was that leaders must fully support change projects if they expect their teams to do the same.

“You don’t want to be the thing standing in the way of change,” said Murstig, a Human Resources Business Partner with DXC Technology. “If you are, then you have to rethink your attitude.”

Bill Lako and Bob Kilinski with Alumni Karen Murstig
Alumni Karen Murstig with Kilinski and Lako

Murstig is highly engaged in alumni activities and frequently attends events like the Clary Series for the opportunities they provide to network with and learn from experts in their fields.

“The continuing education and being able to take what you learn and put it into practice in your day-to-day life – either at work or personally – is what attracts me to things like this,” she said.

Educating and empowering alumni is why the Clary Series exists, said Dr. Kathy Schwaig, Dean of the Coles College of Business. “The focus of these lectures is to help us connect with our alums and to give our alums an opportunity to connect with one another.”

In addition to learning strategies for affecting positive change in their organizations, the alumni attending Navigating Change also received guidance on what to do if a change project fails. According to Kilinski and Lako, most organizational initiatives will end in failure. However, even failed projects can benefit the business.

“Failure to me is a positive,” Lako said. “We tend to learn more from our failures than we do our successes. If you are always successful, than you tend to drink your own Kool-Aid. The reality is that failing makes you more humble and makes your critical thinking better.”

-Patrick Harbin