Engaging people with change
Most people don’t like change – at least changes that are not initiated by them.
People resist change for all sorts of reasons - they don’t like the changes, how it is being managed, and some feel overwhelmed by what is required.
But if you work in a leadership role, you will have learned that your job, at times, it to get people to do things they don't initially want to do.
But ultimately, it is people who make change happen. Without their cooperation, nothing takes place.
Here are five key strategies that tend to increase people’s cooperation with change:
Appeal to their rational mind: If people understand the reasons for the change, can see the benefits, and have clear direction, the general rule is that they will be more likely to cooperate, minimising disruption for your workplace.
But, when it comes to the benefits of change, consider what particular individuals who are affected by change most value. Many are motivated by the benefits to them personally (greater job security, learning new skills, less stress, being approved of by others). Others are more motivated by the benefits for clients (better outcomes or improved service delivery).
It is essential that the leaders of change understand the rationale, can ‘sell’ the benefits in ways that are meaningful to individuals, and ensure their people have clear direction about the actions required.
Engage people at an emotional level: Those who are effective change leaders tend to also be effective in engaging people’s emotions. Structuring the change message in ways that highlight the benefits for what individuals value is certainly a good start.
Another way of engaging people’s emotions is by telling well-crafted stories - success stories where changes have made a real difference, failure or crisis stories if the status quo is maintained, and big picture stories of wider trends.
For example, in a school setting, a chart of statistics about a new teaching strategy is unlikely to be engaging. But success stories about individual children and samples of their work, both before and after the new teaching strategy, may well be more effective in engaging the teaching staff at an emotional level.
When crafting stories, remember that they need to be supportive of the changes as well as engaging at an emotional level. So you may need to test your story on others first. You might also consider whether visual prompts or props can be helpful in conveying these stories.
Give people a say and some control over decisions that affect their work: The general rule is that the more people are involved in discussions and the more control people have over decisions that affect their work, the more cooperative with change they will be.
People have a greater say in group discussions about the change. This gives people the opportunity to be informed, ask questions and have input into the changes. This is best done when it is made easy for people to speak up, where honesty is encouraged, and people are supported in having different opinions. Team members who are reluctant to contribute openly in large group settings may be more prepared to do so in small working groups.
People have more control, though, when leaders delegate authority to key team members who can make certain decisions related to the change. These people are given clear expectations about the boundaries (financial limits, timeframes, limits of decision-making) over those matters in which they have authority. They are also clear as to when they need to refer matters to their supervisor.
High-performing workplaces tend to share the decision-making with the entire team, when possible. Discussions about challenges focus on, ‘What solutions can we find? Or ‘How are we going to make this work?’
Supportive relationships: When people are unhappy about a change, they often need emotional support. But they also need practical support – perhaps in-service training, coaching or mentoring, or certain resources and equipment.
Here you need to remind people it is OK to ask for help and also touch base with people to see how they are going. You can safely assume that most people want to do their work well. But they may well need training, coaching or certain resources.
If you are not able to provide what people are wanting to do their work well, you can at least give people some of what they are needing – understanding, or actions by you, such as, advocating for what they want with senior management.
Change the environment to guide the new behaviour: So often, when we are dealing with ‘difficult’ behaviour from colleagues, we are attributing responsibility to them for bad choices they are making. Although we are sometimes right, we are often wrong - as the environment itself may be contributing to the challenging behaviour.
I recall a manager who was disappointed at being labelled as unsupportive and unapproachable in a staff survey. Although he did acknowledge his tendency to be very task-focused on projects in his office. However, when he relocated his office to a shared work area, this environmental change produced more interaction by him and staff also found him more accessible. In the next survey, the perception of staff was far more positive.
It is often the case, that a change in the environment can produce changes in behaviour. Examples include setting up working groups, running training programs, revising systems, providing coaching, and putting up signage reminding people about the key behaviours that need to be practised.
Changing things is often easier than changing people.
Consider which of the above influencing strategies are likely to be effective with particular individuals in your workplace. Remember that the more of these five strategies you use, the greater your influence.