Instinctually, I think we default to the position that people hate change. The argument is common and feels safe. But what if it isn’t really the change that people dislike?
The real dislike for change comes not from the fact that it is change, but rather from one of 2 areas:
The reason for the change is unclear, and it feels like change for the sake of change – instead of trying to achieve a goal or
The process for the change lacks clarity and direction, leading those involved to feel lost, confused, and/or frustrated.
So how do we get buy-in for change and drive good change management? We attack what people are truly fearful of in a head-on manner.
Fear 1: Reason for change is unclear.
I have said for some time that while many firms may struggle with their external marketing, they are even worse at internal marketing! Buy-in to change starts with your internal communication efforts about this change. It cannot simply be directed “we are now doing x.” There must be key elements in the communication:
“Why you are changing” is an often-overlooked piece of the change. Too often leadership has spent so much time focusing on the change, that they assume the “why” is known, and it becomes taken for granted. In another common scenario, even the leadership team forgets the real “why.” They get vested in completing the change but lose sight of the purpose behind the change to begin with. We must communicate the why. This “why” isn’t just part of the initial communication though, it is also the driving force in the ongoing decision process through the change, and the metric for success measurement after the change.
“What are you changing” must be there – and this isn’t always the same as the name of a technology shift you are making or the procedures you are shifting. If you are implementing a software tool, the name of the new and old tools are not enough. You must clearly state what is changing, in context with the “why” mentioned above. Let’s say that you are changing your firm management system. The “why” could be to give more insight to project status and lessen the administrative time on the team for updating their work statuses. What you are changing is not simply the name of the system. It’s the way in which you track and communicate about projects. Notice that what’s changing is often more focused than the tool itself.
So, what are we looking to avoid in communicating change in this way?
We want to avoid the team members assuming the reason for change. When the reason isn’t clear, people decide the reasons and make it about themselves. In the example above, a team member may see this change coming from a lack of trust that they aren’t doing their job. Now you as leadership are painted as micromanagers – when in fact the opposite is true, this tool will help you stop behavior that is commonly seen as micromanagement.
We want to avoid misplaced value from the team members. When change impacts the daily routine without reason, the team members may fear that they are not valued. When the fear of value creeps up, then we see self-preservation behaviors that not only get in the way of executing the change but also start to bring other negative impacts to the team (and possibly clients).
Fear 2: The process for change lacks clarity.
So, you were clear about why things are changing and what is changing – you’re 60% of the way there! The remainder is charting your clear course forward. Here are your 3 keys for designing a process change with great clarity:
Break it into stages. While this seems logical for big overhauls, it’s still important for the seemingly smaller changes as well. Even marathon runners get to see the mile markers. Sure, the early ones may feel daunting, but as they progress those markers stand not just for what is left – but reflect what has been accomplished already. Another benefit of using stages is that you begin to drive consistency in the midst of change. Break each unique change into the same familiar stages. The emphasis of each stage, or duration, will be different with each change – but your team can clearly see where the change sits in your change process. A final benefit of breaking things into stages is that you have natural reflection points to assess the timeline and resource demands of the change. When you can call out those points in advance of the change, your team can act with confidence knowing there are safeguards built into the process.
Provide clear timelines. I won’t spend much time here – because this is as straightforward as things get. Projects and jobs need timelines. The stages need timelines. This allows for both planning and measurement. Yes, you are busy and want to complete this change “ASAP,” but ASAP is not a timeline – it is an aspiration. Your team needs a timeline (yes, it’s OK if it must change later).
Determine success factors at the end of each stage you can measure against. When you start this change, you told everyone the why behind the change – what it was meant to accomplish. Just as important is being able to define how at the end of each stage we know we have been successful enough to move to the next stage. If you are wrestling with mapping out what has to be done within a stage, start with what success looks like. That will help inform what actions need to be included in that stage to achieve success.
Clarity doesn’t mean you have all the answers, it means the path to find the answers and achieve the results is laid out in a logical manner.
Remember, your team is not afraid of change – they just want purpose in the change, and a path laid in front of them that shows it can be done.
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