It’s officially fall according to the calendar, and change is in the air. Leaves are changing, temperatures are dropping, football teams are making adjustments to prepare them for the big win, kids are excitedly preparing to morph into their favorite Halloween character and the clock is about to fall back for some of us. In fact, change happens each and every day around us.
I must admit that I LOVE CHANGE. I guess I was blessed by God with a fascination for continuous improvement, even at a young age. Once when I was 3, I decided to rearrange all the cereal boxes on the bottom shelf of our local grocery store. My grandfather came down the aisle to find all the cereal boxes strewn off the shelf and all over the floor. He said laughed hysterically as he watched me diligently replace the boxes back in my semblance of order. However, my grandmother was not so amused. Frustrated, she asked me why I did it, and I responded something to the effect of, “so it would be better.”
In reality, nothing happens without change, yet most people resist it especially at the office. Just the mere mention of doing something differently can make some people cringe. Because I thrive on change, it took me a while to figure out that people will exhaust hours of the personal energy avoiding change. As a leader, change is something you personally need to master so you can walk your team members through the process.
Here are 5 lessons that worked for my team’s results through my corporate years. Follow these steps to help your employees embrace change.
#1 Clarity – Every great change effort starts with a clear intention. There are some key questions that as leader you need to ask and to be prepared to answer. What do you want the change to accomplish? What will success look like? What is the purpose of making the change to begin with? How will the change make the overall environment better? Then you need to reflect on how the change will impact your team member’s day to day lives both personally and professionally. Before you even present the change to your team, it is critical that you have a very clear response for these types of questions. Humans resist change because of fear of the unknown and clarity prevents that from occurring.
# 2 Get feedback – Change initiatives fail when they are dictated. No one likes to be told what to do with no questions asked. With clarity, it is easy to communicate the direction to your team. Ask them for feedback and listen to what each person has to say. Every change initiative has at least one naysayer that is confident what you are trying to accomplish won’t work. They will have thousands of reasons it will fail. Don’t be tempted to ignore them. There is merit to what they have to offer so listen and evaluate their thoughts and ideas. With your team’s feedback, review and adjust your intentions as needed.
#3 Take adolescent steps – Start out at a medium pace and take adolescent steps towards your end goal. This one’s not easy, especially if you have a leader who is a visionary and just wants it done now. However, experience taught me that the change initiatives that had the most issues after implementation and most likely resulted in “going back to the way things were” were those times when we pushed too hard and made changes too fast. People need to see that their lives are not going to be disrupted completely with the new way of operating. The only way to do this is let them experience shifts that are not too easy and not too hard. They are just the right mix of achievable deliverables and actions that make your team a tad uncomfortable. Proceed intentionally and mindfully towards your goal. Doing so not only allows time for acceptance, it enables you to test the waters to make sure no adjustments need to be made to your direction. This is why many people can’t keep weight off because they want to lose those pounds overnight with little to no effort. There is no fast track path to a new way of doing things if you want them to stick.
#4 Persist – Many change efforts fail because people give up too soon. The only way to reach the destination is by continuing the journey. If you get lost while driving, do you just stop where you are and stay there? Probably not. You most likely evaluate where you are, where you have come from and where you want to go and adjust the course. Change is no different. When a perceived roadblock gets in your way, evaluate it, adjust it and move on. When a member of your team refuses to move forward, review the destination and purpose for getting there with them and encourage them to stay the course. Celebrate the mini successes along the way. Demonstrate how the change is making positive impacts. Just “keep movin' on “and resist the urge to quit, even when it feels hard.
# 5 Communicate – Don’t go dark when you are in the midst of a change. Now more than ever, you must communicate, communicate, communicate. Send out emails with progress reports, success stories, problems resolved, pending issues and expressions of gratitude for support of the change. Be visible to your team members during a time of transition and demonstrate with your attitude and energy that you are excited about what is happening and what is to come. Encourage anyone that is having a challenge with the process to speak with you and share their thoughts and concerns. Leaders that aren’t available during times of change will find their team members spending a lot of time at the proverbial water cooler discussing how the sky is falling and the world is ending because of what is happening. Effective communication can prevent wasted time and energy and can keep the momentum going toward the desired result.
Change is scary to people. Yet change is essential to achieving outstanding results personally and professionally. As the leader, you team looks to you for how to proceed. Be very clear about where you are headed, get their feedback, take medium steps to your end goal, persist and communicate and you will find that change can be magical for your team instead of dreadful!