I’ve been passionate about the topic of change for such a long time, it’s really fascinating how differently people approach change – it runs the gamut of emotions, from fear to joy to relief to panic, it’s endless.
Cognitively, we all know that change is inevitable, and in most cases welcome. My mother told me that she often procrastinated and put off making a change as long as possible, and then later regretted she hadn’t done it sooner.
Those leading change must be able to address the fundamental questions about a given change in a people-centered way in order to gain cognitive and emotional acceptance, and adoption of the change. Herein, we’re focused on organizational change, and the same principles apply equally to changes of a personal nature.
Why? Why is a change of any kind necessary, and how was that decision made?
Who? Who will be directly and indirectly affected by the change?
What? What will change for the organization and the people, and what won’t change?
How? How will the change be enacted, and how will the people be affected?
When? When will the change begin, and when will it be completed?
The next step is critical – if you want to initiate a change of any kind – involve the people affected by the change from the start – this can be done transparently or indirectly.
Let’s say you’re an established company that’s losing market share in a sector that’s vital for your business, and it’s obvious you need a new go-to-market strategy; or you’re a post-start-up company that needs to shift from R&D to production, sales, and distribution. In both cases, the capabilities (and sometimes the people – remember, you’re not excluded from this possibility) that made the organization successful to this point, aren’t what the organization needs to succeed in the future…so something, and likely some people, needs to change.
As a senior leader, you see the need for the change – however, maybe not everyone has that foresight.
First, gather evidence or data (internally and/or externally, e.g., industry benchmarks) to support the need for change. Then you need to demonstrate to the senior leadership team the fact-based reasons why a change is necessary.
Once you have the buy-in of senior leadership, begin involving people at all levels of the organization by using employee or pulse surveys, focus groups, town hall discussions. Ask the right questions of your key stakeholders and influencer groups to get them to see the need for the change and propose solutions to answer those fundamental questions.
Push the decision-making down through all levels of the organization – trust the wisdom and experience of the people your company’s hiring, and be sure to steer the process so that decisions are reached in a timely manner. Listening, including, and engaging are more important than building complete consensus – in most cases that won’t happen, and decisions need to be made in a timely manner.
Tip: HR shouldn’t lead a change initiative – HR can visibly support and enable a change initiative – however, it needs to be led by business leaders, otherwise it will be viewed as an administrative exercise and not taken seriously. And it needs to be directly connected to achieving specific business goals, which ultimately affect the people one way or another.
Finally, there are two last key points:
Be the change you want to see in others – senior leadership needs to ‘walk the talk’ and make the same changes in behavior that they expect from others, and if necessary take others by the hand – if the leaders at all levels don’t do this – the change will not succeed!
Communicate frequently, consistently, compassionately and as transparently as possible throughout the entire process – people need to see that you trust them with this information and that you’re leading them with an open hand and heart in order for the change to be successfully adopted. Or as Patty McCord put it, “Be honest and treat people like adults.”