The Four Change Principles

People change from being led, not from being told.

Last week I said it can be very difficult to cope with change because changes makes people fearful. But I also said that change can be used for good, and change can be made into a positive IF you follow my FOUR change principles. I gave you the first two principles last week. They were:

Principle #1 — Change Is Never A Neutral Experience.

Principle #2 — When People Don’t Talk About Their Reactions To Change, Those Reactions Go Underground And Later Emerge As Symptoms.

But the third principle says:

Principle #3 — Change Must Be Processed.

Effective change leaders know they don’t want an organization full of negative reactions. So they allow people, even encourage them, to talk about their reactions to change.

The problem is that it takes time to process people’s reactions. Every place I speak, I discover organizations trying to make changes, introduce new products, reorganize, and restructure. All these organizations are into the FORMS of change, but very few of them are creating FORUMS where people can talk about the change.

Of course, their leaders tell me all that talking would take too much time. I simply tell them you’re going to take time, whether you like it or not. You’re going to take time NOW, talking about the changes, or you’re going to take time LATER, coping with all the negative reactions.

=> a. Cost Of Not Talking = Lost Money

If you don’t take the time to process the changes, you’re also going to spend a lot more money paying for the inevitable reactions. You’ll pay for it when people leave. You’ll pay for it in recruiting new people, and you’ll pay for it while training your new recruits.

=> b. Cost Of Not Talking = Lost Productivity

And if you don’t take time to talk about the changes and people’s feelings, you’ll pay the price in lost productivity. People at all levels will show a bit less energy or become a bit more difficult. You either talk about the change or live with the negative side effects of change. That’s just the way it is. You have no other choice.

=> c. Cost Of Not Talking = Lost Followership

The other reason change must be processed has to do with followership. If you don’t talk about the changes and the losses with your people, then you’re going to enter the change alone. Let me explain.

Suppose you were trying to sell me a new, multi-million dollar insurance policy. You could talk all you want about how wonderful the policy is. You could emphasize the tax-deferred growth, the retirement dreams it would fulfill, and how all my children and charities would be bountifully blessed. But the more you talk, the more turned off I would get.

All I would be thinking about is what I would have to give up to pay for that policy. I’d have to give up my house payment, my car payment, my church tithe, and putting my kids through college. Until you ask me what I’m thinking and feeling, until you listen to my hopes and fears, until you understand what I’m willing or able to afford, I won’t follow you into the change you want me to make. I won’t make the decision to buy that new policy.

You see my lack of followership, my unwillingness to buy the policy, does not come from the insurance policy itself. It may be a wonderful policy that could do all those nice things for me. No, resistance to change comes from the loss.

=> d. Need To Talk About The Loss

Any yet, when I deliver my program on “Mastering Change: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Taking Risks, and Getting Results,” some leaders and managers think all I have to do, and all they have to do, is deliver a “feel-good” speech that says, “Look at our vision for change. Isn’t it wonderful? Rah-rah-rah!” They want a quick fix, and they want somebody to reinforce their plans for change.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The reason they’re having problems with change has very little to do with their vision, the clarity of their vision, or the articulation of their vision. The problem is their people don’t want to lose what they already have. They don’t want to make the sacrifices they’d have to make to help the organization achieve its vision.

So if you’re trying to lead others through change, you have to do more than have a great vision. You have to do more than talk about how wonderful the change is going to be. You’ve got to go back and listen to your people, understand what the change means to them, and what it’s going to cost them. Your people will only go forward with you to the degree you’re willing to go back with them — and process the change.

Principle #4: With Proper Processing Almost Any Change Can Be Accepted.

=> a. Start With Yourself.

You can only help others process and accept change if you’ve done it for yourself. Get in touch with the fact that you, too, may be feeling confused, vulnerable, angry, or hurt, and yet be excited, hopeful, and challenged. All too often we’re not even honest with ourselves. We tell ourselves such things as, “No. I’m not upset. I can’t be upset … No, I’m not discouraged because I’m not supposed to be discouraged. After all, I’m the boss.”

One way to get clarity about your own reactions is through a journal. The rule is to let it out, keep on writing, don’t take your pen off the paper. Just write, write, write and your real feelings about the change will come to the surface.

You could also talk to a few colleagues. Find out what others are feeling, how they are coping, what’s happening in their business, and what’s working and not working for them. You’ll find out you’re not alone. You’ll get some great ideas on how to lead in changing times, and your spirit will be renewed. Just one caution: you’ve got to find people you can trust, and you’ve got to find people with whom you can be completely open and honest.

I belong to such a group and can’t recommend it enough. We’re all highly successful in our work but face similar challenges in our industry. So we consult with one another, giving the best advice we possibly can, to help each person be effective in the changes he or she is making. We meet once a quarter, all day long, and require absolute commitment and confidentiality. The personal benefits have been enormous, and economically speaking, my business has grown by double digits for ten years in a row due to the wisdom I’ve picked up in this group.

=> b. After Starting With Yourself, Celebrate The Past With Your Colleagues.

Live it up; validate it. Too often people think change is a slap in the face. They think they’re being told that the old way of doing things was wrong. Not at all! Your employees need to hear that what they did in the past was not wrong. It might have been the very best way of doing things. The trouble is, the world changed, and we all need to keep on changing to stay competitive.

So celebrate the past. Only then will your people relinquish the past, and only then will they be willing to consider a new way of doing things.

=> c. Then Move On To The Influential People In Your Organization.

Ask them how they feel about what’s going on in the organization, how they feel about the past, and what their dreams are for the future. Ask them for their input. Don’t’ approach them as enemies. That will only solidify their resistance.

Approach them as coworkers who may have some justifiable fears and may need some support. Assure them you will help them succeed in the new environment. As you do that, you build rapport, and you win them over one by one.

=> d. Continue The Process Group By Group.

Create small-group forums where people feel safe to say what they really think about the change. Let their feelings come out. Don’t argue with their feelings. Don’t say such things as, “You shouldn’t feel…” Just accept their feelings.

Then gently move the discussion away from the time-consuming question of “Why do we have to go through this.”

Get the groups focused on “How can we grow through this?” That moves people’s energy away from analysis and onto problem solving.

Change is a part of life — a big part of our lives. But when your people fear change, they will stagnate. When they fight change, they will experience predictable failure. Well-led change brings growth, learning, and profitability. So go ahead, use the four principles I’ve outlined and lead your people through a positive change experience.

Action:  Write out the four change principles. Bring them to your next team meeting. Rank order them from 1 to 4 in the order of how well you are following them. Give a “1” to the principle that you and your team are most effectively implementing. And plan out two things you can do to more effectively implement the principle that needs the most attention.