The change agent Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

Holly Buffinton says her entire career has been about change, and effectively leading changes in an organization is one of the best ways she says you can up your game.

“Just given how the world is evolving so quickly and how technology evolves, as well, change is something that will always be there with us, so therefore being able to embrace it and help others manage through change is really critical to leadership in this day and age,” she says.

She should know. As the executive vice president and director of the Western region for PNC Wealth Management, she recently had to lead changes as PNC and National City merged.

“We believe as an organization that when we come together with another entity through an acquisition, we need to look at both companies and take the best of both,” she says. “That could mean change in both organizations, and as a result of that, you end up, No. 1, with a better company, and you end up with one that can better deliver superior services and products to the community and to the clients that we bank with.”

Anytime you’re leading change, one of the biggest key factors is communicating with your employees about what’s happening.

“One of the most important things we can do to help employees through that is to give them perspective on why the change is important, what the facts are around why there does need to be a change, and what the benefits are for the individual and the clients,” Buffinton says. “Really articulate it and collaborate with the group on how do we make the change happen so we as an organization together can execute on that change.”

One way to collaborate with people is to actively engage them in the process.

“It could be, if you’re developing a goal for the following year, bringing people into that discussion in terms of how they could effect a growth in the business — helping them through and brainstorming,” she says. “If they feel they own a particular decision, we just have a much better chance of achieving the goals set out for us if everyone is on board. Part of that is just having those discussions with them and making it their decision versus an edict from management.”

You also should help employees see what the future looks like after the change occurs.

“Paint a picture of what their life or their day may look like as the change evolves,” Buffinton says. “I do think that employees need to envision that a different way of doing business won’t necessarily be a negative thing or impact them adversely, but it’s just an alternative way of thinking.”

After more than 30 years in business, the constant challenge has been helping lead people through change.

“I do believe that leading by example is really important,” she says. “I think the employees need to see that you not only believe what you’re telling them, but you can demonstrate it through actions — your determination is achievable or adhere to a discipline or show them how to achieve something that they didn’t think they could even do themselves.”

But while it’s a challenge, she’s also realized that by being open to change, it’s helped her move forward in her career.

“If you have a bit of entrepreneurial spirit and can accept change, then there’s probably limitless opportunities in a sense,” she says. “I have that in me and try to look at my business or the business I’m running to see whether there are different ways of looking at it and improvements that can be made along the way. Although change for many people is difficult, I do think that getting employees to be companions and colleagues right along with you to help you through it and be collaborative is important for helping them get to where they need to be.

“If you’re able to look at change as being an entrepreneurial thing and thinking about things a little differently, you really do enhance the lives of your employees, and it helps them look to the future instead of basing them on the past, and I think clients benefit from all of that.”

How to reach: The PNC Financial Services Group Inc., (216) 222-2000 or www.pnc.com