Change is a constant element in our lives, both personal and professional. As leaders, we often need to initiate and lead changes in our organizations. These changes include strategic directions, product features and roadmap, process and organizational changes.
Whether the change is self-initiated or imposed, strategic or tactical, it’s always met with significant challenges, both psychological and practical.
Throughout my career, I’ve led many change initiatives, in large companies, as well as start-ups. In one case, we were leading an initiative to change the company from an engineering driven organization to a marketing driven company. This was a year-long effort that yielded great results in terms of revenue growth, improved profitability, and increased market share.
These experiences have taught me some valuable lessons about the critical factors in leading a successful change in a company/organization. I would like to share with you my main conclusions, and some useful tips.
Why People Resist Change
It’s important to understand that for most people any change is unwelcome. Therefore, it is often met with resistance and concerns. Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist, writes that such people have what’s called a prevention focus.
Prevention motivation is about obtaining security, avoiding mistakes, and fulfilling responsibilities. It’s about trying to hang on to what you’ve already got and keep things running smoothly. Hence, it isn’t at all conducive to taking chances.
In other words, people need to have a really good reason to change. And they need strong motivation to overcome their natural fears and concerns.
Therefore, before embarking on such a challenging initiative, a leader needs to be sure that it’s truly necessary. In addition, she should be confident about its potential outcome. Furthermore, she should take time to really understand the potential issues and concerns that people, especially the key stakeholders may have with this change. And prepare the appropriate responses.
Some Useful Tips
Following are a few more useful tips:
Get buy-in and commitment from the CEO. This is a must. Unless you’re the CEO, don’t start your quest for change without it.
The proposed change should offer clear and real benefits to all stakeholders. They need to have a strong incentive to support your initiative.
Spend time individually with each stakeholder to present your initiative, receive their feedback, and make changes if necessary. Get their personal buy-in and support, before launching the new initiative. Be sure to use the right language for those with a prevention mindset.
To persuade the prevention-minded person to take a risk, recent research by psychologists Abigail Scholer, Xi Zou, Ken Fujita, Steve Stroessner, and E. Tory Higgins suggests that you should emphasize how a course of action can keep your company safe and secure — how it will help them to avoid making a terrible mistake.
Deliver clear and simple communication to employees on what is the change, why it is important to do it, and how will their jobs/lives be better as a result.
Be sincere and realistic in your expectations of the benefits, as well as the challenges. Remember that most people have been through a change or two in their lives, and as we know, not all changes turn out as expected. Thus, some of them may be skeptical of your initiative. Respect their concerns and fears.
Develop and deploy a simple process, with clear actions and roles that enforce and support the new changes.
For change to succeed it needs to have clear actions and steps that anyone can take without requiring elaborate new processes. Start simple, and add the more complex stuff later.
Follow-up and re-enforce, follow-up and re-enforce, follow-up and re-enforce. One effective way is periodic reviews and updates, including the sharing of interim results.
Like marketing campaigns that require a point of sale support, successful behavior change campaigns need to place reminders at the point of action — the moment of truth when behavior is set in motion.
Change is not just inevitable it’s essential in order for you and your company to advance to the next level. And yet, to lead a successful change, be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and doing it right.
To borrow from Mahatma Gandhi: “be the change you wish to see”.