Getting Change To Stick

Everyone is either leading change or trying to adapt to it. Very little in our world today remains constant. And yet, change is hard for all of us. Any change is hard, but large scale change can be particularly challenging.  Change is in front of us every waking moment of our day, from the new brand of coffee you thought you would try in the morning, to the ‘new and improved’ toothbrush your spouse bought for you to use at night.

Don’t you ever find yourself mumbling, “Why can’t the world just hold still for a moment while I get my bearings?” You aren’t alone. It’s human nature to resist change unless the change is noticeably better than our current environment – in these rare instances we eagerly seek out the change.

So why do we so adamantly (consciously or unconsciously) resist change? Because of uncertainty, fear of failure, complacency and the most important reason of all … because it didn’t work before! We’ve all been there, changes that for one reason or another were a bust. Lots of unfulfilled promises and unrealized outcomes. But clearly understanding the reasons change fails also illuminates some of the ways we as leaders can get change to stick.

The only constant is change, surely all of you have heard this right? The typical response is “oh boy, here we go again”.

So what can we do as leaders to ready our teams for change, encourage them to view change in a more positive light, and ultimately accept change more readily?

Here are three tips founded in scientific change management principles and my own professional ‘school of hard knocks’ experience:

Involve the stakeholders – This tip is the most important. No one likes change being done to them, NO ONE. Ideally you should engage them at all stages of the change process – ideation, evaluation, testing, implementation. By engaging your team and those stakeholders who are most impacted by the change throughout the process you accomplish several things. First, the change ideas will flow and you’ll have several options to choose from. Second, stakeholders will come to own the change as their own. And finally, because the change was their idea and not yours the change acceptance will be much quicker, therefore more likely to succeed and not fail. Yes, this means you’ve got to give up some control, but not as much as you think.

Break the change down into the smallest increments possible – This tip is founded in several different change management principles. But it also makes common sense. It’s always easier to stomach a small change than a big one. A silly personal example, pun intended: My wife has suggested I should eat less pizza when the family has pizza night, typically on Sunday evening. She has great intentions looking out for my own health, but gosh, I love pizza! I would be willing to accept eating only 3 pieces of pizza rather than my usual 4, but am entirely unwilling to eat only one. And to think she suggested we eliminate pizza night entirely … that’s too big of a change for me to accept!

Test the change and prepare to adjust course, if necessary – This tip is rooted in Agile principles. Once the change has been broken down into small increments, test each increment to see if it results in the desired outcome. Following the test you (and/or the team, see tip #1) can decide upon one of three courses of action: pursue and expand, pivot and adjust, or abandon the change all together as just a bad idea. When small change increments are tested, then any failure is temporary, and easier to take. And successes can be built upon quickly, adding momentum for larger change to occur.

Change is hard, really hard. And large scale change in a work environment is even more complex and therefore harder still. By following these three straightforward tips, I can’t guarantee that every change you make will be robustly embraced by your team and all key stakeholders, but you will have tipped the scales of probability in your favor for sure.

FOT Background Check

Guest: Ed Baldwin
Ed Baldwin is a career HR front man who’s advised and consulted with business owners and the C-suite on developing great cultures and inspiring work environments since the profession was called "personnel." Yeah, that makes him seasoned but also pretty quick to call out the fluffy HR theoretical crap from HR strategies that actually work – so don’t even bring that here. His versatility has taken him all over the world continually acquiring knowledge of how to build a great company through great HR practice, learning mostly from real world experience and his own mistakes. Reach out to him at ebaldwinkc@gmail.com.

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