Insights from the Change Management Tweetchat

A few weeks ago I hosted a tweetchat on managing organizational change. Many of the insights from the conversation aligned with the findings from Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I want to discuss two of those points in particular: What is change and how do you get buy in?

What is change?

Our first mistake as leaders is to assume that change means one thing. Take a relatively simple change as an example: “We will no longer have coffee in the office.” To one employee this means an hour in the morning with a grumpy, decaffeinated manager. To another employee this means a changed commute to factor in getting coffee before coming to the office. And to yet another employee this means that the organization clearly no longer cares about its employees if it can’t even provide coffee. These are three very different interpretations of this simple change, and that is exactly the point.

Change is not what you are doing; it is the perception of what you are doing. Change is personal. It is individualized, not one specific thing, and thus you have to recognize and respond to various personal perceptions in order to make change work. Luckily though, different perceptions don’t always require different responses. In our example, the first two employees could both be appeased by providing purchasable coffee, for instance. However, failure to recognize the perspective of the third employee could lead to bigger problems. Therefore, the way you communicate and the actions you take cannot be one size fits all.

How do you identify those perceptions? Simply put: Ask and observe.

How do you get buy-in?

As Organizational Change Consultant, Gregg Gullickson, said,People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. Engagement is key.” A classic example: Parents pushing their child down a certain career path – Becoming a doctor may seem like the best option, so the parents may pay for the education, set up an internship, and insist that their child takes the MCATS, but if the child has his heart set on becoming a musician, the chance that he will willingly become a doctor is limited. And even if he does, it is more likely that the change won’t stick or he will resent his parents.

People have to be engaged in the change; they have to own the change for change to work. But how do you do that? As Rob Tucker wrote in his blog, “Ownership is not an intellectual state, it is a feeling.” Leaders need to help their employees feel:

  • They can manage the change – Give your employees a slice, not the whole pie and work your way up to the goal. This is what the Heath brothers referred to as “shrinking the change.”
  • They are empowered – Remove roadblocks, provide resources, and let your employees decide the best way to reach the goal.
  • They are responsible for the outcome and the outcome has meaning – What they do or don’t do has an impact on the whole team. If they feel that the team is counting on them they are more likely to be committed to creating success and when they are successful, their efforts are recognized – not only to for their own benefit, but as a model for everyone else.

Managing change is one of the most difficult things a leader will do in their career, especially when the change isn’t as simple as coffee, which most often it’s not. Often changes can be unwanted, multi-faceted, or even confusing. However, a rapidly changing environment has become the norm and getting employees on board is essential. Often the first step is an open, honest conversation – “How do we get this done?”


Guest Post: 5 characteristics of effective change agents

A global economic crisis, U.S. Federal government sequestration, increasing healthcare costs, an ever-more interconnected world – we live in a challenging world where the pace of change gets faster every day. A change management program isn’t just a nice-to-have anymore. It’s mandatory to succeed.

Those who go beyond just adapting to change to become change agents set themselves apart in this kind of environment. Having worked with both public and private sector clients over the last twenty years, I’ve observed a few characteristics of successful change agents:

  1. Effective change agents have deep knowledge of their environment. This understanding of rules and guidelines helps change agents learn where they have flexibility in their decision-making and gives them the confidence to push boundaries.
  2. Effective change agents have a plan. Successful change agents systematically execute against an action plan. They consistently engage with stakeholders across the organization, follow through on their promises, and deliver what’s expected, when it’s expected. They aren’t afraid to adapt their plan to evolving circumstances if the impact to the workforce doesn’t play out exactly as expected (and when does it ever?).
  3. Effective change agents understand change is personal. Each person impacted by a change makes an individual decision to move forward with the change or to resist it. There is not a universal strategy – a single communication medium, one leader, one key activity – that will unilaterally move all affected staff forward through change. Successful change agents use different techniques to help different people move forward and always respect the individual in the process.
  4. Effective change agents use data. Whether it’s through formal surveys on communication effectiveness, measuring process improvement or reduction in cost, change agents use data to measure success. If the program has not achieved its goals within a reasonable time frame, they dig in to understand why and adapt plans accordingly.
  5. Effective change agents are not afraid of failure. In fact, they learn from their failures and move on. Rather than stick to the tried-and-true, effective change agents look for opportunities to engage the workforce in new ways, even when unproved. They are smart and prudent in how they do it, and they start small and persist even when things don’t go as planned.

We all have a role to play as change agents, whether it is helping a customer learn and accept a new process or leading a program for our organizations. What are you doing to help others around you be successful in a rapidly-changing world?

This post was written by Emily Craig, IBM Organizational Change Management Leader.

Friday Fast Tip: Change is inevitable, learn to manage it

Although we may find the uncertainty of change scary at times, it is indeed inevitable – especially in our current interconnected environment. As leaders, there is nothing we can do to prevent change, in fact doing so may have negative impacts on our organizations. Instead, we must focus our energy on managing change and preparing our organization for a new normal. This month my blog will focus on the topic of change management, so tune in for more!