In the previous two articles in which I focused upon the phenomenon of change, I focused on the mind-set and approach best suited for the task of challenging those outdated models of practice we can find in almost any organization and on the qualities that characterize the true agents of change that manage to successfully transform them. In this article, I want to look at the difficult — but essential — task of gradually winning converts to new ideas.
To say that this is truly the hard part of leading the change process is an understatement. It is time-consuming, emotionally draining, and like other aspects of the management job, failure is always an option. So the thoughts that follow are not intended as a prescription for success, or a step by step formula to follow. They are merely some suggestions to help guide those interested through the attempted conversion effort.
Θ BE PASSIONATE about what you hope to achieve and why. Why should others care if you do not seem to care all that much yourself? So be emotional and remember you are conveying faith and belief in the change, not certainty.
Θ Allow people time to adjust to the idea of the new and respect their right to a period of resistance. Remember that you are attempting to change both people’s attitudes and some practice, process, or behavior to which folks will have varying degrees of attachment. This requires some time.
Θ Make a point of acknowledging what will be lost via the change, while simultaneously emphasizing what you believe is the gain. This represents another sign of your respect for the attachment people have to what you wish to change and buys you mutual respect for your ability to see the whole tableau of change.
Θ Stress repeatedly the connection between the change or new idea you are championing and the component of your mission, business purpose, or service you aim to enhance. Keep this message simple and clear. If your change is not intended to make you and your organization better at what you and they do, then why do it and why should anybody else get on board?
Θ Be prepared to communicate your message about the purpose and importance of the change or new idea over and over and over and over again. In the face of resistance, it takes time for these messages to sink in, especially with those who are hoping it — or you — will just go away. The consistency of a repeated message is the natural antidote to the “this too shall pass” rumors that likely will circulate, and is a certain sign that you are serious and will persevere.
Θ Looking to spin or hyperbolize a change message in the most positive way is a politicians art. Practicing the art as a manager, risks rendering you a “slick huckster” in the eyes of your subordinates and colleagues As I have encouraged often in these articles, talk straight to people, level with them, and tell them everything, whether positive or negative.
Θ Have and share with folks the MEASURES you will use to determine if your change has had the desired effect. This demonstrates to others that you will willingly test your faith against some future reality and offers you the opportunity to evaluate and tweak the results some more, to keep them moving in the desired direction.
Θ If the change you desire involves changing behavior, describe that behavior in clear, concise, observable terms and then demonstrate its importance by observing, measuring and rewarding it. Most others will notice and eventually emulate what you reinforce.
Θ Remember that there is always more than one road to Albuquerque. The end goal is what matters, not some rigid notion of how to get there. The more people you involve in pursuit of the new idea, the greater number of suggestions you will generate regarding how to accomplish your objective.
Θ Let us say, for the sake of discussion, that roughly 15% of your people will grasp and embrace the new idea or change almost at once. Let us also say that roughly 15% of folks will never get on-board and may eventually need to be left behind. That leaves a critical 70 % in the middle. Pay attention to the 70% in particular. Gaining a majority share of their support is what really matters in the end.
Θ Lastly, if you are to convert others by virtue of your own confidence, you will need to overcome your own occasional fear of failure and being wrong. I have known few agents of change who do not occasionally look in the mirror and ask themselves “what in hell am I doing here”. To occasionally be in doubt, is human. To keep pushing forward none-the-less, is what defines the true agents of change.