Change can be unpredictable, but it can have positive outcomes. As it pertains to a group dynamic, change is certain. During times of major adjustment, a group or other entity can thrive with the help of carefully selected themes, stories and people.
Throughout popular culture, we encounter many cases of successful transitions resulting from strategic decision-making, in addition to changes gone haywire in moments of haste. But for every rough turnover there are countless examples of seamless moves. Take for instance, Van Halen, arguably one of the most successful rock groups of the 20th century. When lead vocalist David Lee Roth left the band in 1985, he was replaced by Sammy Hagar. Hagar and Van Halen would release four No. 1 albums during their first 11 years of partnership. Or how about Cheers? When Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Shelley Long left the TV show at the end of season 5, she was replaced by Kirstie Alley as the female lead. With the addition of Alley, the Cheers writing team was able to explore new opportunities for storylines and character developments. Staying with the sitcom for the remainder of the 11-season run, Alley maintained Cheers’ status as one of the most watched shows of its time. In later years, Cheers even experienced an increase in weekly viewership. The skills, personalities and ideals of these new leaders propelled their communities to new heights. Change is inevitable, but the opportunities it presents are endless.
Organizations are no different. With time, industries and leaders change. New faces, thought processes and initiatives are brought to the table. But how can industry leaders leverage their corporate heritage during times of major institutional change? What are the creative tactics organizations can use to harness the past while looking to the future? How can companies avoid internal turmoil during times of change?
1. Move Forward by Giving Thanks
As your employees get ready for a new phase, provide them with opportunities to express gratitude to pertinent individuals from the company’s past. When Retired Army Major General Joe Robles left his role as USAA’s CEO in 2015, The History Factory worked with members of the USAA team to develop a book of congratulatory notes from employees and longtime customers to salute Robles for his work. Within several weeks, the book had received more than 450 notes through the help of social media, email blasts and personal appeals. Robles received a book of thanks, while employees were given ample time and an appropriate outlet to reminisce about the company’s past in an attempt to prepare for the future. Offering employees a space for nostalgia allows for reflection before they rally around a new leader.
2. Celebrate the Knowledge of Others
Tap into the knowledge and experiences of retirees, longstanding employees and company leadership through the use of oral histories. In anticipation of an upcoming leadership shift, a leading financial services firm opted to conduct oral histories among several senior and long-term team members. By encapsulating each individual’s institutional knowledge, The History Factory has helped the firm preserve unwritten and untold stories. The anecdotes, insights and details obtained through the oral history program won’t merely capture the firm’s story. Information gleaned from these interviews can be used as powerful tools as the company looks to develop future initiatives.
3. Leverage Employee Nostalgia
Entering a new chapter in your organization’s history? Provide your colleagues with an informal forum to share stories, reminisce about funny instances and celebrate communal accomplishments. When Boston Scientific Chairman Pete Nicholas announced his 2016 retirement, the company took action. Together with The History Factory, Boston Scientific engaged company leaders, longstanding employees, key partners and investors through story-gathering as well as the development of personalized storytelling videos. At Nicholas’ May 2016 retirement party, the outgoing chairman was presented with a personalized scrapbook and a congratulatory video; both items contained photos, milestones, inside jokes and watershed moments shared by members of the Boston Scientific community. Collaborating on Nicholas’ customized gifts allowed members of Boston Scientific the opportunity to commemorate the past and heighten a sense of company commitment, which increased the company-wide enthusiasm about the potential for the future.
Change is inevitable as companies mature and grow. However, by harnessing the past and leveraging organizational history, shifts in structure and leadership need no longer be viewed as moments of struggle, but as times for celebration.
 The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, “Van Halen Biography,” https://rockhall.com/inductees/van-halen/bio/. (accessed 8 July 2016).
 Bill Carter, “The Tonic That Keeps ‘Cheers’ Bubbling Along,” The New York Times, April 29, 1990.