January 19, 2016
Let’s suppose someone walked into your office and said, “I just did some math and it looks like we need to make a change.” At that moment, you should realize that the easy part of Change Management has just been completed.
Yes, I’m saying that “Math is the easy part.” Putting pen to paper and arriving at a conclusion that calls for change require only an idea and mostly high school level math skills. This is really only step one in what could be a long and complicated process.
Step One: Identify the change to be made.
This post is not about Step One. It’s about all of the other steps that must follow in order for change to be successfully implemented. Consider this the Cliff Notes on Change from someone who has spent the last 28 years making the most complicated and emotionally loaded change a company can undertake – changing shift schedules.
Here is how I do it…in no particular order:
Communicate. Talk to the people who are affected; letting them know the Why’s, When’s and How’s. Talk to the people that are unaffected but near the periphery of the change. They will hear rumors and if you leave them out of it, they will assume the worse.
Find the Feather. In every change, there are going to be good things and bad things; not necessarily balanced and not necessarily spread equally across all affected parties. Look for the “feather in the cap” as it may apply to everyone involved. Give them something to look forward to; something positive that will result from the change. Don’t leave it to them to find this for themselves.
Communicate. When telling people about the change, don’t overwhelm your audience. Too much information too quickly will result in the opposite of what you hope to occur. Instead of understanding, you will create confusion. With confusion comes anger and resistance. Meter out your information in digestible chunks.
Perspective: Understand the perspective of your stakeholders. I guarantee it’s not the same as yours. For you to address their issues, you need to know what they are concerned about as well as what they value. For example, when changing shift schedules, the workforce will care very little about how such a change strengthens a company’s competitive position. They care about how it affects their income and their time off.
Communicate. Do not hide the downside of a change. In fact, actively bring it up. Doing so will let your audience know that what you are proposing isn’t just a snow job. They will see downsides and you ignoring them will seem disingenuous. In presentations, always address the elephant in the room early on. People will know it’s there and they won’t hear a thing you say until you address it.
Create Ownership. Actively look for degrees of freedom when multiple options will lead you to the same result. Next, solicit input from your stakeholders as to what options they would most like to see pursued. They may also have options you may not have considered. In short, get them involved in the solution. If the change reflects, at least in part, input from affected parties, those parties will be more likely to support the outcome.
Communicate.(As you can see by now, I’m a proponent of communication.) When deciding what to communicate, be aware of The Fear of the Unknown. In the face of unanswered questions, people will make up their own answers. This is not a good thing. We all inherently have what is known as negative bias. In short, our survival skills depend on our never underestimating a situation. We assume the worse because the penalty for being wrong is less than if we mistakenly assume the best. For example, Caveman Jim sees a brown blob off to the right. He can assume it’s a bear and runs or he can assume it’s a rock and ignore it. If it’s a rock but he wrongly assumed it was a bear, he ran away for no reason. If he assumes it’s a rock and ignores it, but it’s a bear, then caveman Jim is going to have a bad day. To overcome this negative bias, eliminate the unknown. Communicate clearly and often. Perfect information makes for smoother change processes.
Leadership. Understand that there are different leadership styles and different situations call for different styles. Coach others to help achieve your goals when possible. Be authoritative as needed but remember, people, don’t like to be told what to do. Coercive styles are rarely productive. Look for ways to empower people. Treat them with respect. Listen and respond. You want people to follow your lead by choice, not by directive.
Communicate. I’ve heard over the years that people need to hear things at least 3 times before they sink in. While this may not be a law of physics, it certainly seems to be good advice. Not only must you communicate the same message several times, but you must also do so using different methodologies. Group meetings are great, as are PowerPoint presentations; but they don’t work for everyone. Some people will just want to spend some informal time with the “message giver” to help them better understand what is being communicated. Some people need to read a message instead of hearing it. Many of us need some “soak time” that will allow us to process a message before we can respond. Look for innovative ways to communicate the same messages multiple times.
The 5% rule. It has been my experience that 5% of every workforce, managers included, come to work to say “no”. They are like Eeyore on Winnie the Pooh. “It will never work.” I’m not going to tell you to disregard someone that says this. After all, they may have a point. What I’m going to recommend is that you don’t over-empower these nay-sayers. Accept the fact that you will not get everyone on board with your plan. Trying to do so will have the following two consequences: (1) Your plan will eventually morph into something you didn’t originally intend and (2) You will never get that 5% on board anyway.
Communicate. Don’t put this on your to-do list and then cross it off when completed. You will never be done communicating. From conception to congratulations, communications will play a vital role in the success of any change process. Communicate timing. Communicate intent. Communicate changes in the plan. Communicate recognition. Communicate progress. Then communicate some more.
And finally, all change is loss and all loss must be grieved. I don’t say this as a low note. It is an inevitable part of life. Accept it, not as a roadblock to be overcome but as a sign that you have in fact reached that point where the inevitability of change has arrived and it is time to move on; time to implement that change. We get over this grief. Sometimes we need help but we always get over it. In the end, you will have made a change for the better.