Don't Fear Change – Shape It

We’re not here to test the waters. We are here to make waves.

Some years ago, I visited my daughter at college. Looking around her room I saw a mobile phone, a computerized coffee maker, a mini-refrigerator, a personal computer with a printer, a CD player, a DVD player, and a color TV with remote control.

What hit me, most of those things did not even exist when I was in college. My dorm room had a manual typewriter and an AM-FM clock radio. In fact, my parents didn’t have as many appliances in their home as my kid had in her dorm room. It was obvious things have changed. And to make things even more complicated, the futurists tell us that most of the things we will use five years from now don’t even exist today.

But for those of you who fear change … or even hate change … maybe it’s time to recognize that things have always changed and are going to keep on changing. In fact, in 1873 Boston, a telephone salesman was arrested because, as the authorities said, “Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires.” And more recently, humorist Bob Orben pointed out, “In the Renaissance, one man could possess the sum total of human knowledge. Today, it takes two teenagers and a cab driver.”

The key to EFFECTIVE change, however, is not to be found in fearing it or fighting it. It is to be found in shaping it. And there are 10 steps you can and should take to shape the changes coming into your work life.

=> 1. Get your mind on board.

In other words, accept the fact that change is CONSTANT. It is inescapable. Business as usual is cancelled. It no longer exists. That’s why Sony … when they invented the Walkman in 1979 … put out a different Walkman model every 3 weeks for the next 19 years.

Accept the fact that change is constant, and accept the fact that change is NEEDED. It is absolutely necessary. We no longer have the choice between change and the status quo. Now it’s change or die.

So get your mind on board … because effective change always starts in your head. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

=> 2. Get very clear about the need for change.

It’s critical … because any change … even good change … is somewhat uncomfortable. So you’ll be tempted to avoid the change to avoid the discomfort. However, if you can see a clear, compelling need for change, your excitement about the future will help you overcome that discomfort and keep you moving forward.

To establish the need for change, point out the price you’ll pay or the pain you’ll feel if you don’t change, and point out the pleasure you’ll experience if you do change. As I tell my audiences, we don’t always change when we see the light; sometimes we have to feel the heat.

=> 3. Give yourself a brutal evaluation of your current performance and condition.

If you’re not 100% clear about the need for change, then give yourself … or have someone else … give you a “brutal” evaluation. That’s what the sales manager at the Bass corporation in the United Kingdom does. After his sales reps finish a call, he asks them, “Did your behavior in your last sales call bring you closer to your goals … or bring you closer to getting what you really want out of life? If not, then change your behavior!”

So take a good, hard, and cold look at yourself or your organization. And don’t sugar coat your analysis. Don’t pretend things are better than they are. Don’t fall into denial. Just figure out if your current performance and condition are as good as they could be or if there’s room for improvement.

And by the way, the best time to change is when it seems the least necessary. The best time to change is when things are going fairly well … rather than wait for the bad times to hit. After all, if you change when things are going fairly well, you have a clear head, unencumbered with panic and desperation.

=> 4. Develop an exciting vision of what you want.

Forget boring, mundane change. Describe your desired change in terms that capture your emotions. As the CEO of Swatch says, “If you can add fantasy to your product, you can beat anyone.”

And describe your desired change in terms that captures your head. In other words, it has to make intellectual sense as well as feel good. That’s why business professor William Barnett says, “The art of strategy is about understanding your industry well enough to know a promising innovation from a blind alley.”

=> 5. Get others to buy into the vision.

You can do that by ensuring absolute vision clarity. Ann Salerno and Lillie Brock wrote about it in their book, “The Change Cycle.”

They wrote about the president of a company who decided to hold an all-employees meeting to announce a controversial restructuring program and outline his vision for the future. The manager charged with staging the event was both glad and anxious. The meeting was a good idea, but the manager saw one glaring opportunity for failure. The president wanted to answer questions from the floor to ensure vision clarity. It was a courageous move … but also very risky. The range of questions, the level of detail, and the emotional volatility of the audience were almost sure to be more than any one person could handle.

The solution? Welcome the questions, but answer them after adequate deliberation. At the meeting, employees were encouraged to ask questions, which were displayed on a large screen on stage. Everyone could see the questions, and everyone knew they would get an answer. The president promised to answer each question by e-mail during the following week … clearly and concisely … and that’s exactly what he did.

So you can get others to buy into the vision if you make the vision totally clear and understandable. And you can get others to buy into the vision when you reinforce it with symbols. Microsoft did that for years. They wanted to reinforce their vision of creativity, so they built or allowed a creative work environment … where programmers could work anytime day or night … where programmers often looked like left-over hippies who actually threw things around the office.

And finally, you can get others to buy into the vision if you let them shape it. As Herbert A. Simon, educator and Nobel Laureate scientist, pointed out, “Significant changes in human behavior can be brought about rapidly only if the persons who are expected to change participate in deciding what the change shall be and how it shall be made.”

When you outline a vision, you don’t have to fill in all the blanks or specify all the choices. In fact you shouldn’t do that even if you could. Let the people who must buy into the vision be allowed to fill in some of the blanks.

=> 6. Protect the change makers.

You will always have some people who more excited about the change than others, and you will always have some people who work harder than others to bring about the change. They are called the change makers.

Keep them filled with hope. Shield them from cynicism. Put a cocoon around these movers and shakers … because the negative thinkers in the organization will try to stop them.

=> 7. Get commitments from your key people.

You seldom accomplish big change or organizational change without the help of others. So identify the folks you need as supporters of your vision. Communicate your compelling case for change and get their commitment to it.

On the flip side, after an appropriate amount of transition time, move quickly to eliminate the laggards who will not buy into the vision. The laggards or the resistors have to get on board or be left behind. And from experience, I can tell you that it’s an awful lot easier if you do it sooner than later.

=> 8. Select a limited number of priorities that will actualize the vision.

Focus on them. Don’t try to accomplish too much at once.

And even though motivational speakers may tell you to “Shoot for the moon” and “Reach for the stars,” the truth is … unrealistic goals can overwhelm and discourage you and everybody else. As psychologist Dr. Bev Smallwood notes, “Another nail in the coffin of success is attempting too many goals at once. Pick one or two; then give them a laser-like focus, with faithful follow-though.”

If you don’t know how to limit your priorities, just ask one question: “Does your proposed change or activity add value to the customer?” If it doesn’t, forget it. If it does, focus on the actions that provide the most value.

=> 9. Do it quickly and do it cheaply.

Trends expert Robyn Waters says, “When you know something is right, just do it. Too many good ideas fall by the wayside for lack of execution.”

She’s right. You have to create a sense of urgency, building speed and momentum for the change you desire. And the less time and money you spend, the more success you’re likely to have. After all, every project has three phases: “It will never work; it will cost too much; and I thought it was a good idea all along.”

=> 10. Measure results — in tangible terms — with integrity.

As you go through the change process, measure results. See how well you’re doing. It will encourage you to see the progress you’ve made, or it will steer you in a new direction if corrections are needed.

But as you measure your results, you’ve got to do it with absolute integrity. Too many people, departments, and organizations hide their performance behind shaky figures. In fact, I’ll bet you never read a report that said a certain department was doing poorly or should be eliminated … if that department wrote its own report. The report showed everything except honesty and integrity. The department was just trying to survive.

So the facts are clear. Change is here to stay, but the best change is the change you design and manage. And these 10 steps are how you do it.

Action:  Think of a change you are considering or a change you are experiencing. And then pick out two of the steps that need more special attention from you. Focus on them for a while.