Helping people to embrace change

Riding a bike was always going to be a challenge for my 13 y.o. son, Robbie. He has a disability that makes certain things a challenge for him - fluent speech, movement, and balance.

But he rode his bike independently last weekend. And this achievement was cause for much celebration in our house.

Thinking about it later, I concluded that the approaches we took to support Robbie in embracing this change also parallel what we do to support colleagues in embracing change. Yes, we are all big kids, aren’t we?

Here is what we did, which might give you some ideas on helping others to embrace change at work:

  1. Find a motivator: Robbie’s motivation came from a few sources. The first was when his mum and others suggested Robbie use an adult tricycle. While this was a valid suggestion, Robbie did not like the idea of riding such a bike. He thought that if he rode it to school, he would stand out and be subject to teasing. I had the same concern. So, the decision was made that each day we would practise him riding his two-wheeled bike.

    Finding motivators that your people truly care about can also help them see the need for change. Is it the benefits of change – learning new skills, achieving best practice, or achieving better outcomes for clients? Or is it the cost of change if the status quo continues – getting Central Office off-side, unsatisfactory outcomes for clients, or follow up conversations with you?

  2. Give people what they need: We found that the training wheels we originally put on Robbie’s bike made cycling accessible to him. However, the trainers were not encouraging balance, with Robbie typically leaning heavily on one side. So, I removed the trainers and the pedals, and lowered the seat, so Robbie could easily balance himself with his legs. There was also lots of reassurance that I would physically hold the bike up so he wouldn’t fall.

    What do your people need to embrace change – time to do what is required, emotional support, clarification about priorities, or certain equipment and resources? Those who are motivated to embrace change want to do it well, but feel frustrated if they are not given what they need to do so.

  3. Break change into small steps: At first, we started with Robbie balancing himself and the bike as he put his leg over it. A major achievement in itself, for Robbie. The next goal was to push himself down the street and practise balancing himself when he lifted his feet off the ground. At first, he could only balance himself for 1-2 seconds. Within two weeks, he had progressed to 40 seconds, rolling down the entire street with his feet lifted off the ground.

    When rolling out major change in workplaces, it is less overwhelming if we break it down into smaller, achievable steps – regular briefings, attending relevant training, or being clear on the initial steps that need to be taken.

  4. Deal with challenges as they occur: With Robbie, it was not all smooth sailing, of course. I found when I pushed Robbie with too big a step or too many steps at once, that this only resulted in him becoming quite stressed and anxious. There were also quite a few occasions when he came close to falling.

    Most of the time, we got over the upset and persevered. Other times, we would have a break, talk about it, and revise the plan. Often smaller steps were needed. Or we would remind ourselves why we were doing this. Robbie seemed to take some confidence in mum and dad’s hope that he was going to be able to do it.

    If you’re dealing with resistance to change in your workplace, you may have to break the change into even smaller steps, revisit the motivators, and make sure people have what they need. It’s important also to normalise challenges when they occur and learn what you can from them. Certainly the hope and confidence you model as a leader can inspire the same in others.

  5. Reinforce progress: There was lots of verbal reinforcement with Robbie’s improved balance, of course. But also reward for the effort he put in each day, even if there was no progress. In Robbie’s case, the reward was extra TV time. The neighbours were very good as well, calling out words of encouragement. The best reward, I think, was Robbie feeling a sense of pride in what he was achieving.

    At work, It can be entirely demotivating when our efforts at embracing change are not recognised or we are criticised when things do not go smoothly. I believe that reinforcement of progress and effort is particularly important in the early stages of change. Remember to not expect perfection, but to normalise setbacks and look for any lessons.

If you want to see what comes from a lot of effort and persistence by Robbie, you can watch his video here.


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