Many managers spend their working lives knowing that things need to change, but real leaders have the courage to take the first steps.
Now that you're ready to take the plunge, it's time to break the news to your employees.
You'll see a lot of different reactions from them, including but not limited to:
- Excitement. Some people love variety, and they want to shake up the status quo all the time.
- Anger. Other employees think the way things used to be done is the only way things should be done.
- Hesitation. In some cases, employees know that change needs to happen, but they're worried about venturing into the unknown.
- Duplicity. These employees cheer about change while you're looking at them — and then spread poison behind your back.
- Grief. To these people, the company looks unfamiliar, and they feel as though they no longer belong.
1. Pick a Symbol
In his book “The Heart of Change,” former Harvard School of Business professor John Kotter told the story of mid-level manager at a large organization. The manager knew the company could save money by consolidating purchasing into a single department instead of letting every factory make its own purchases.
To make his case, he gathered up 424 different kinds of work gloves that the company's factories had purchased. He tagged each glove with its price and the name of the company that made it. Before the next senior executives meeting, he dumped the box of the gloves on the table, giving executives a powerful symbol of the inefficiency of their purchasing process. The resulting procurement changes saved the company a great deal of money.
Find a physical symbol for why change needs to happen, like the 424 gloves. You could also delve into your liberal arts education and choose a symbol from literature, film, or pop culture. Maybe you could provide a photo of a customer who would benefit from the change, and share that photo throughout the company.
A visual symbol makes people feel an authentic and urgent need to change.
2. Build a Coalition
when you're leading change, you can't be a lonely prophet on the mountaintop. You need allies to spread and cheerlead your message.
A team can have more conversations with workers than a lone leader manage alone. More importantly, your coalition members will see opportunities in places you won't, observe challenges you hadn't anticipated, and win over their co-workers in ways you didn't expect.
Think of pivotal people that others in your companies respect.
Don't just choose people who are easy to convince; choose people who will make a difference on your team. Explain what you want to change, listen to their concerns, and come up with strategies to address those concerns when possible. Then, ask for their support as you roll out your new initiative.
3. Share Your vision
Leadership expert Simon Sinek says people don't care what you do; they care why you do it. In his words, “Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the ‘I Have a Dream' speech, not the ‘I Have a Plan' speech.”
Your plan is incredibly important and should be mapped out in great detail. Your vision, however, is what will win people's hearts and motivate them to make big changes.
Summarize the change you want to make in one sentence, and write it down. Then, ask yourself why it's important. Write down the answer, and then ask yourself again why your second sentence was important.
Repeat the process until you've dug down to discover why you truly care about the project.
4. Celebrate Short-Term Wins
A big change takes a long time to accomplish, and people can feel discouraged when it doesn't happen quickly.
To keep your team motivated, it's important to accomplish a big job in small bites and recognize people for their contributions.
Divide your long-term vision into short-term goals, and celebrate every time employees or departments accomplish those goals.
When the change creates positive outcomes, advertise each success. Let people see that their work makes a difference.
5. Let Employees Vent
Even the most positive employees feel frustrated by change and it's natural to feel resistance to change.
It's important to let your employees air their feelings. When your workers express themselves openly, you learn about glitches in the process that you didn't anticipate. You also discover who might need additional support.
Make time to talk to employees one-on-one, or schedule meetings that allow people to openly discuss the change process.
Don't take negativity personally. Instead, let employees be part of the change by asking them how they'd fix the problems.
Former JetBlue CEO Dave Barger once told Forbes that when you think you've communicated enough, you should triple it.
“Everyone has to know what the goals are — from the C-suite to the cockpit; from the gate to the galley,” Barger said. “If everyone is on the same page, teamwork follows, and everything clicks.”
Look for multiple channels for sharing your message, including company intranet, video, social media, and email.
Never forget the power of talking to people individually.
Make yourself available, and explain yourself with the commitment of a politician who's asking an individual for a vote.
7. Keep Momentum Rolling
As you get closer to your goal, you'll feel momentum building. Harness that momentum, and don't let it slip away from you. Momentum becomes synergy.
Stay committed to celebrating wins. Show your employers the real-world effects of the change. Also, turn stories, including stories about mistakes made, into company lore.
Before you know it, the change will no longer be new; it will just be the way things are done.
Here's to Change
You can't control how people will react to big changes, and you'll learn a lot about your employees based on the way they handle change.
You'll also learn what it takes to be a leader, and you'll feel proud of all you've accomplished at the end of the journey.