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?”