The one question I get asked more frequently than any other is, “How can you get people to change?” Many managers and business owners I talk to seem to be really stumped by this question. They feel that people are always resisting change, that people want to keep things status quo, and that people fear change.
While there are some very challenging people and change initiatives, changing people is not as mysterious as one might think. I have found that there are seven things to consider when you want to “change people,” and the first thing that may surprise you – let people change themselves.
Let’s look at the following scenario: An employee (call her Susan) sits at her desk on the ground floor on a bright sunny day. A visitor pulls into the parking lot, and the sun’s reflection off the windshield comes blinding through the building window and hits Susan right in the eyes. What does she do? Remain as she is, blinded by the light? No. She will most likely change her sitting angle, close the blinds, or move her chair. Does she grumble at the visitor? Probably not. She changes and corrects the situation herself.
Now Susan has just closed the blinds so she can work when her supervisor comes by and tells her, “The quarterly report doesn’t work for me. You need to change it to a monthly report,” and leaves to address her next urgent matter. Susan will most likely grumble because she doesn’t seem to have a say in the change. She is being forced to blindly accept the change regardless of what that means to her workload and her report-generating process. Susan doesn’t support the change as it stands right now.
I don’t think that people resist change, and I think they resist being changed when the change upsets their processes, space, and day.
Second, it is critical that you focus on the processes. Most of our employees are process-minded people. They keep the “machine” (our companies) running as work moves into their workspace, do their part, and move it on to the next person. The faster you can bring an upcoming change initiative down to the process level, the better. As we’ve all heard, talk is cheap. However, when you can bring a change idea (discussion) down to the level of how it will impact your employees in their day-to-day workload and processes, they can begin to truly understand what the change means to them, the department, and the organization as a whole. Once they internalize the change to these levels, they can express valid concerns or show support and ultimately begin making the change a reality. If they can’t bring the change initiative to this level, they are left guessing what the idea (talk) really means and hesitant to give their full support.
This leads us directly to securing employee buy-in. This is done by involving the employees in the change process, using their ideas and process expertise to their advantage, and creating a culture where employees are encouraged to raise concerns before a change occurs.
The next item might surprise some people since what it suggests is often taken for granted or considered a luxury activity – define internal positioning. It is important that all employees clearly understand how they, as individuals and how their department fits into the organization and supports the goals of the organization. Developing internal positioning documents create benchmarks that can be used to determine how much an upcoming change will have on the individuals and the department.
Recognizing challenges is one of my favorites. Managers often feel they are doing their employees a favor if they sugar-coat or minimize the challenges that a change initiative will present.
I am amazed that we feel that we can’t afford a few hours of planning and preparation time when beginning a change initiative (even when people have concerns and questions). Still, we always find the time later for 15 hours to undo, rework, and redo the work. Employees would prefer investing time upfront instead of fixing problems later.
And finally, use the proper tools to guide the change process. Find tools, strategies, and training designed to connect your strategy and initiatives with the day-to-day workloads. Only when these two points are connected will you begin to realize success with your change initiatives.
So, there you go. No rocket science, and just solid people skills and strategies that put a process to that intangible concept called “change.”.
What do you think? Is this a framework you can use to get people to change? Let’s discuss this below!
How to Change People
- Let People Change Themselves
- Focus on the Processes
- Secure Employee Buy-In
- Define Internal Positioning
- Recognize Challenges
- Invest Time Upfront
- Use the Proper Tools