Here’s the scenario…
You want to, or have to, lead a change initiative in your organisation. It maybe because of a new software integration, a restructure or the implementation of a new process. Maybe even an acquisition?
It doesn’t matter what the catalyst for change, the reality is that it’s like that old adage in change management…a system of work is only as effective as the people who use it.
The key to leading effective change is adopting an unconditional approach, one where you create an environment that supports the required change. In this blog I’ll lay out for you four key steps that are critical for ensuring your change event has the best chance of immediate uptake, and sustainable success.
Ensure the relevance of your change event by aligning it against your company strategy. Ensure it adds value to the achievement of company strategy and objectives. Change for the sake of change is wasted energy and will kill personal and organizational credibility quickly. The other axis of alignment is that of the leadership team. As the leader you will be watched very closely; does your behaviour match what you are asking your team or workforce to do? If not you are undermining the initiative from the outset. Your thinking, feeling and behaviour in respect to the new way of being has to be absolutely aligned; as too your leadership group if it is a group wide change event. Finally, the leadership team themselves have to find a place of alignment between each other. Individual leader commitment in their own division, branch or team is good; however it is equally important for the leadership team to embody the change together, and know implicitly as well as explicitly what they each have to do to contribute to this new way of being. Think of it like a jumbo jet with one out of the four engines facing the wrong way. It will hamper your efforts.
So some questions to ask yourself…
Think of anytime you’ve changed your mind in respect to something; whether you’ve quit smoking, switched brands of computer or motor vehicle. You get the idea. The simple fact is that you had some help in making the switch…you were exposed to a new set of information. This information may have come from formal learning, but as we all know, most learning in life comes from our experiences in day to day life. So when thinking of change in an organisation, it is no different. We can ask someone to do something new, and if we force them from a behavioural perspective, then sure we will get a short term win. However it will be a compliant action, in Transactional Analysis terms, it is behaviour of the Compliant Child. The new behaviour will be shown whilst the manager is around, however when left to their own devices chances are that the preferred behaviour will kick in. That’s simply because the thinking didn’t shift.
Now let’s not create any false illusions here; I’m not suggesting that we can shift the thinking of all employees, however the aim of any sustainable change event is to target this goal state, and to be structured to do this…in other words we want to give everyone the opportunity to decide that the new way of being is something that they ‘want’ to do…not something they feel they ‘have’ to do.
To help you think about this with regards to your own change event here are some tips:
3. Save Face
We can’t force someone to change their way of thinking. However we can create the opportunity, as we have started to explore in the above section on Exposure. However for some people moving to the new way of operating this may be a really big deal; especially if they have been doing the ‘old’ way for a long time.
Allowing people to Save Face is more about the overall demeanour, or style, of the change initiative. If the starting position is ‘change or else’ resistance will be the order of the day. If the starting position is ‘ let’s do this together’ then we are starting to get somewhere.
This is an unconditional approach, that is backed by a strong air of protection…the communication, and leadership actions supporting the change demonstrate that it is ok to try it, and to make mistakes, and to give it another go.
At the same time though, this is tempered with the provision of boundaries; the rules attached to the change event. The often forgotten aspect of change is the amendment of things such as job descriptions that reflect the new way of being. Whilst taking an unconditional approach will get you results quicker, it is also important for employees to know clearly what is expected of them, and that performance management underpins the inability to move to the new way of operating. Most importantly, for the most stubborn of employees, the new job description may create their opportunity to save face. In other words, “I’m doing this because it’s in my job description, not because you want me to do this”. This can be the start of their journey to a new way of thinking.
The key points to consider for saving face are:
People want to know that there is something in this for them. What are the benefits for the new way of being? The simple fact is that many of your workforce will not believe there are benefits until they see them. Therefore your actions in the Alignment and Exposure categories should reflect the benefits in a personal way and realistically. Your job is to create the perception of benefits until they start to materialise.
The tough thing though, is that as the leader you do not have this luxury; your job is to believe it before you see it! Seek out other organizations who have already done what you are about to do; see the results for yourself, listen to their stories and create a clear picture in your mind as to what you can expect to achieve in your organisation.
At the outset, when creating your communications plan, clearly understand the benefits for the employees and not just the organisation. Weave these advantages through your messaging and exposure strategy.
Always remember…we change our way of being the easiest when we perceive that there is a clear benefit. This is because we aren’t focusing on what we are losing, we are focussed on the future gain.
A final word...
Change does not need to be difficult. It certainly isn’t easy; but then where’s the growth for us personally and professionally if it was always easy? These steps will help you lead a change event in a more efficient manner and can underpin, enhance or integrate with most corporate change strategies.
Which of these steps is more important is debateable; in fact over the years that I've evolved this way of supporting change I've found that they are quite interdependent...which is why it is such an easy way to approach change. At the same time though, if your leadership team, or you as the leader, are not personally aligned with the changes then you have a great deal of work to do in the other stages to compensate for this. There will be times when you don't agree with the chosen product, but do agree with the need for change. In these cases you will have to find a way to be authentic and honest, without being the one engine that is facing the wrong way. It is possible. If you can't do this then perhaps there are some bigger questions to be asked...but that may be a topic for another time!
For now though, remember, Align, Expose, Save Face and Benefits.