Whenever I ask someone, “What’s the biggest challenge your organization is facing?”, one of the top three answers is always something like, “We simply can’t get our people to change.” Change has long been the thorn in the side of many groups. The truth is, people just don’t like change. It’s true. And that includes you and I. Sure, we’re all for change when it’s our idea, but when it’s not… well, change doesn’t seem so appealing then.
People buy in to change when they fully understand (or at least think they do) the need for change. They can get onboard when they feel like they play some part – even a small part – in the decision to and the process of change. So, you’ve got to make a change within your organization… what now? The last time you tried to reshape the culture, you barely got out alive. How can you do it better this time?
Try these 10 steps:
- Assess your organizations change readiness. Is your organization ready for something new, or are they so entrenched in the status quo that someone’s going to lose an arm if you try and implement some sort of change now? They don’t need to be 100% ready and begging for change, but if it’s clear that change is going to result in bloodshed, you should probably back up and determine how to soften the culture so it’s a little less change-averse. There are quite a few ways to determine an organization’s level of change-readiness. If you need more information about some of those methods, contact me and I’ll be glad to give you some ideas.
- Build your Transition Team. In order to survive the change process, you’re going to need advocates. You’ll need a group of people who fully accept the need for change, understand what it will look like, are willing to help with the planning and implementation, and are willing to be ambassadors, for the change, on your behalf. This team must be carefully selected. It doesn’t need to be a large team. Depending on the size of your organization, 4-10 people are all you need for your initial Transition Team.
- Communicate. Now you’ve got to begin communicating in every way you can think of. Talk to large groups, small groups, and individuals. Send emails, write letters, and post on the organizations website. Create informational material and FAQs. You need to bring people into the loop regarding the need for change. Answer the questions, “Why do we need to change?” and “What’s wrong with what we’re doing now?” As John Kotter says, in his book, Leading Change, you must “create a sense of urgency.” People need to understand the ‘why’ behind the change. You will only accomplish this with communication. And, when you think you’ve communicated enough, you’re not even half-way there yet. Keep talking!
- Expand your team of ambassadors. Now that others are beginning to buy in to the need for change, you need to begin recruiting others to be advocates on your behalf. You need people from all possible camps. You need people who were on board from the beginning. You’ll need to enlist those who were totally opposed at the outset. You need a few who were indifferent at the start. You need those who recognize the need to do something differently, but had other ideas regarding what that something was. The bottom line is this – you need as many different thought positions as possible represented on your team. Then, you’ll need to meet with them regularly and commit to ongoing two-way communication. Tell them what you’re thinking and planning and then listen to their feedback. It’s important that everyone continues to genuinely feel they are a part of the process.
- Create a plan and timeline. Now that you have your team and you’ve established trust through genuine and transparent two-way communication, it’s time to develop your plan. With the help of your team, determine (a) where you are, (b) where you need to be, (c) what are the most formidable obstacles between the present situation and the future change? Once you’ve answered those questions (and others that come up along the way), you and your team can begin to outline the specific actions steps to get you from Point-A to Point-B. At that time, you can pencil in when your change process needs to be completed, and create a timeline accordingly.
- Broaden your team again and create empowerment. Now that the plan is done, it’s time to bring even more people into the inner circle (which should have grown pretty large by now). As your Transition Team continues to grow, it will be critical to create a sense of empowerment among the team members. You can’t do it all yourself and it is essential that everyone on the team feels like they have a part in the process. Show them what needs to be done, empower them, then get out of their way and simply monitor the team’s progress.
- Create the opportunity for micro-successes along the way. Be sure to build into your plan, milestones that can, and will, be achieved along the way. People will need to see ongoing forward progress in order to remain motivated and onboard. Be sure to brainstorm and come up with any small but measurable steps that can be accomplished, and then celebrated, along the way.
- Celebrate the micro-successes along the way. See number 7 above. Be sure you communicate and celebrate as you move ahead. It’s critical at this point in the process to keep everyone positive. Celebration is a great way to do this.
- Regularly communicate project status. This is about the time you’ll find yourself in a difficult place – that time after the death of the old, but before the birth of the new. This is what William Bridges, in his bestseller, Managing Transitions, calls “The Neutral Zone”. During this time, people’s anxiety will begin to grow and their motivation will begin to fade. Your team, and others, will be fatigued from the work toward change, and with success still out of sight, people can easily become discouraged. If not handled well, this can be a time of division and you could end up with more discontent than when you began the process. How do you successfully navigate “The Neutral Zone?” Communication! People will expect to move straight from the old into the new. Let them know where you are in the process and explain to them what’s next. Help them understand the angst they are experiencing is not uncommon, instead, it’s expected. Reassure them that you are still on track. Continue to clarify what the change will look like when complete. Remind people often of why you are making the change (yes, you made this overwhelmingly clear earlier in the process, but they need to hear it again now… and they need to hear it a lot at this point). Take the time to communicate and, just as importantly, to listen and answer questions. This is a critical time.
- Reinforce the new culture. Congratulations, you made it through alive… possibly wounded, but alive. Now, don’t expect the new culture to simply take root. You must continually make the new reality feel comfortable and normal. Don’t expect wholesale acceptance. There will be detractors and you must be ready to deal with them, speaking to their concerns and, where necessary, taking even more extreme measures. The point is, you can’t afford an explosion now. You must reinforce the new culture over and over an over until it sticks. Of course, by then it’ll be time to change it again. Oh well, cheer up. It get’s easier every time… well sort of.
Now, Step 11. I know, the title of the blog only indicated 10 steps, but there is one more, and it is very important. Continue making small changes from now on. The tendency is, once a difficult change process is completed, to take a break and avoid change for a while. This is a bad idea. A very bad idea. In order to survive as an organization, change is simply a reality, not an option. You must create a culture of change by consistently leading your people through small change. Once small, incremental change becomes the norm, larger and more difficult changes will be much easier to navigate.
Change is never easy. Many leaders crash and burn as the result of failed or poorly executed change efforts. Sometimes entire organizations collapse due to their inability to change. If you’re preparing for a change initiative, or if you need to begin preparing for change, and you’re a little uncertain of what to do next. Shoot me an email. I’ll be glad to have a conversation with you. Even if it’s just to listen and offer advice, I’d love to help you.
QUESTION: What change have you been putting off because it seems overwhelming? What is the cost to you and the organization if you don’t change?