We’ve all heard it before: managing organizational change is not easy. That’s because behind the many systems and processes that exist within an organization, you find people. Looking back at early models of change management, pioneer Kurt Lewin got to the heart of why change is so hard for people: stasis – or the desire to “freeze” – is more comfortable than going into the unknown.
It’s hard to believe that when organizations are going through change they can overlook the key component that underlies everything in business – humans. While we are adaptable, there’s also an inherent rigidity to us: our primal brains aim to keep us safe. We naturally seek stability, predictability and routine. When we’re confronted with the need to think, feel and act differently, we resist.
So while you may hear about “saboteurs” in change settings, it’s really not so sinister. People want to do the right thing, they just need help getting there. Taking a people-centered approach to managing change is your best bet, because winning hearts and minds moves people to change.
If you need to motivate people to change, here are three people-centered approaches that can help:
Win hearts with powerful story telling
Think about some of the more inspiring figures in our history. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great leader of change, not only because he had a better vision for the future, but because he shared that vision in such a way that people saw it, felt it, and internalized it, making it their own. While you may not be the orator that Dr. King was, learn to tell the story behind the change in a way that reaches others. Give them clear line of sight of where you’re headed, reassurance that the change is not only possible but achievable, all-the-while expressing optimism and urgency. Be sure to highlight the benefits employees can expect as a result of your collective hard work and faith in the journey.
Cultivate Group Genius
While you may have the insight and the experience to know that this vision is the right vision for your company’s future – your fellow employees may not. Engage their minds. Talk about ideas for how you’ll get through this journey together. You can provide the parameters, but allow employees to devise the solutions and path forward. By letting the tribe take ownership of their part of the change, you help to sooth the primal brain that is prone to resist, and infuse accountability for the results. Even better, you increase the likelihood of getting there faster!
Enable teamwork by removing guesswork
The cost of not disclosing information in a change setting is unquantifiable. It’s not only about the sheer amount of lost productivity and squandered energy that can’t be recouped, but it’s actually poison to your culture. A company that doesn’t connect with its employees during times of change is untrustworthy. (Remember our primal brains?) Nobody wants to be left in the dark, and we’re inclined to distrust what we don’t know.
It’s okay to say, “We haven’t figured that part out yet.” But radio silence helps nobody, and you’ll find your employees convening around the water cooler trying to sort out the missing information, which often leads to the proliferation of misinformation that is harder to contain and correct.
So if you have a notable change ahead, communicate early and often about it: what you know, when you know it. Tell your employees what is going to happen, when and how, and explain to them how they’ll be impacted. Let them know specifically what they can be doing differently to support the change. By putting people at the center, you have a better chance of getting there together.
For more on managing change, see How to Support Employees While Managing Change. Need help getting employees on board with your change effort, contact us today to start a conversation about how we can help!
Sarah joined Blue Beyond in 2016 as a consultant. She’s been working in the areas of change management and communications for more than 10 years and specializes in change and internal communications, engagement, and culture.