People process the word “Change” differently. Often, change can be exciting, especially if the change is initiated by oneself. For example, a change in diet, getting married, moving into a new home, changing jobs or getting a new exercise routine. However, if change is initiated by someone else, it might be met with skepticism or fear such as adopting a new computer program at work, revamping company policies and procedures or hiring.
Why is this? Is it the change we fear or is it poorly led change that we fear? Most people have been part of many initiatives that have resulted in extra meetings using extra time and energy, only to be forgotten within a couple of months. Consequently, most people resist change because they value their time, routine and ease of the familiar. If leaders want to compete within an ever-changing world, they must be able to effectively implement change.
To do this well, we must:
Start with “Why.” The reason for change must be clear or it most likely won’t happen. Many times leaders underestimate that amount of urgency required for people to change. They forget how comfortable people get and that unless the feeling of comfort is met with a strong enough reason to change, people are not likely to do so. Often people associate change with loss, a loss of competency, a loss of comfort, or a loss of time, which causes people to hold onto the past. Leaders must paint an honest picture of the “why,” even if this means sharing some unpleasant numbers like profit loss, downsizing or job security. Once the “why” has been effectively conveyed, people have a cause to pursue.
Get buy-in. Far too often leaders have a great idea and roll it out prior to getting the input from the most influential people on the team. If a team is small, then feedback from the entire team is vital prior to rolling out a change. However, if a team is large, then the “influencers” of the company need to be consulted. Regardless of job title, the “influencers” in an organization are the people the rest of the staff looks to, listens to and follows. These are the people that the staff trust the most. If the influencers have been consulted, understand and support a change initiative, then the rest of the staff will be in support as well. Prior to initiating any change, leaders must sit down with the influencers of the company, share ideas and get feedback for improvements. If they think it is an awful idea, then forget about that change initiative. Once their support is gained, leaders will have gained the buy-in to effectively lead change.
FYI: Don’t forget to look at your business like a person with strengths and weaknesses. Many companies have policies and procedures that are meant to keep the status quo, and they have a specific margin they must hit in order to be profitable. When looking at a new initiative, compare it to these policies, procedures and margins. If your change fits within these areas, then you’re set. However, if your change doesn’t fit, then you will need to look at creating an independent team within your company or acquiring a new company to effectively implement this new change
Prepare for barriers. Every change is going to face obstacles. When leaders are proactive in planning for these anticipated barriers, then the change initiative is more likely to succeed. Some of the most common barriers to overcome and prepare for include:
· Overcoming past successes. Many companies have had success in the past using a certain program or strategy, and they get stuck believing they found their best and only way to operate. Getting stuck in our old ways can lessen our ability to change in the future, allowing our more agile competitors to take control of the market.
· Too many managers, not enough leaders. Managers are meant to keep the status quo, not lead change. To lead change, people will follow a leader, not a manager.
· External resistance. Because many people associate change with loss, don’t take it personally when people resist a great change initiative. If you have effectively included the influencers, then this external resistance will be minimal.
· Internal resistance. This is typically the most difficult to prepare for and most critical to overcome for change to take place. Along any change initiative, self-doubt will eventually sneak in. Being surrounded with strong mentors, listening to inspirational content or reading motivational books can combat negative self-talk.
Think small. Radical improvement doesn’t require radical change, it requires focused effort on a consistent basis. According to James Clear in “Atomic Habits,” if someone focused on getting only 1% better each day, she would be 37 times greater at the end of the year. Thinking small allows leaders to set realistic and actionable goals and see wins stack up. For change to occur, people must have clear objectives and then see their actions making a difference.
Develop Grit! According to a study done at West Point, grit is the single biggest determining factor in a cadet completing the academy. When a change is rolled out, there will be challenges, obstacles, resistance and self-doubt. So to achieve the new goal, leaders must have the grit to do the uncomfortable and mundane tasks to push through the muck.
If a leader can create a strong sense of urgency, get buy in, prepare for barriers, create small wins and grind it out, they will become a champion of change.
Be a Champion Today!
Brandon Buck is a Boise-based leadership coach with Infinite Strengths.