The Change Management "To-Do" List

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Sure, I’ve been traveling and speaking around the world for years. I thought I’d seen everything. Then I took a trek to the mountainous jungles of northern Thailand.

To get there, I drove a Jeep for 200 miles, canoed for eight hours, rode an elephant for a day, and then hiked another two days. When I arrived at my destination, a particular tribal village, it was like I had expected. The village had thatched roof huts, a few smoky fires, and people wore only loin clothes, beads, and feathers. Just like the pictures in “National Geographic” magazine. Then the chief greeted me and offered me a Coke. Really!

It struck me that change is everywhere. Not just your industry, your company, your department, or your customer. Change is everywhere, even in the remotest jungles of Southeast Asia.

So let’s get beyond all the useless discussions about change. Let’s not waste our time wondering whether or not it’s fair. Let’s accept the fact that change is here, and it’s our task to deal with it.

In countless seminars I’ve talked about the positive side of change and how to use it to bring out the best in your organization. Keep on doing those things. They work. Persistence pays.

However, there is a nasty negative side that must also be addressed. Whether you call it a downsizing, an outplacement, a restructuring, a reorganization, a layoff, or a merger, the impact on employee commitment can be devastating. As consultant and author Price Pritchett says, those things “can kill the spirit…and…rip the heart out of an organization.”

It’s your job to get past the devastation brought about by change. So you’ve got to keep your energies high … and if you’re a supervisor, manager, or leader of any sort …you’ve also got to refuel any sagging spirits you might see amongst your coworkers.

That’s a part of what I teach in my keynote, half and full-day sessions on “MASTERING CHANGE: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Taking Risks, and Getting Results.” You might want to check it out.

Brian Lacey, an agency manager for Country Insurance and Financial Services, said, “The program was a ‘value-packed’ day. Wish it could have been 4 days! Great material and strategies for everyday life!”

Here’s a sampling of those strategies. Try these DO’s on your coworkers when you’re going through a period of change.

=> 1. DO demonstrate your own passionate commitment to the change.

Especially if you’re the leader. Like it or not, you set the climate. People are always watching you to see what they should do.

If your people see you doing little more than put in your time, waiting for the next early retirement program, don’t expect them to be committed. Rather, show your passion. Let them see it in your actions and hear it in your words. This is no time to be shy, reserved, distant, or unavailable.

=> 2. DO demonstrate your unwavering commitment to your people.

That’s not easy. In today’s rapid world of change, you can’t provide lifetime employment. You can’t even protect your people from upper-level decisions that may hurt their careers.

However, you can be intensely committed to helping them succeed in the jobs they face. And you can make sure they are employable in the future. AT&T, Raychem, General Electric, Allied Signal, and Allstate Insurance guarantee their people lifetime employability through job enhancement. Johnsonville Foods encourages all employees to attend any class, regardless of its direct applicability to their current jobs, so they’re always up to date.

=> 3. Do give a mighty sense of purpose.

People get fired up by a cause or a dream. They work for something they believe in. They don’t work for a company or someone else’s organizational objective such as “increased market share.”

Follow the example of the great companies. They give a mighty sense of purpose. ServiceMaster (“Honoring God in all we do”), Walt Disney (“We create happiness”), and Southwest Airlines (“Have fun and make a profit”) all have purposes that capture the hearts of their people.

=> 4. Do give the power to succeed.

Too often, change makes people feel helpless, as though they have no power to influence or control the direction of their lives or careers. And powerlessness leads to a “what’s-the-use” attitude, where people do just enough to get by.

Counteract the despair by giving each employee power over some sector of work. Help them see that they can do something to affect their circumstances and shape the future. The Ritz-Carlton Hotels allow any employee up to $2000 to do anything they must to rectify a customer complaint on the spot — no questions asked!

=> 5. DO give people a sense of connectedness.

When change comes about in an organization, there’s more going on than a simple change in routines and responsibilities. People’s old, comfortable work relationships get disrupted as well. And that can make the change process all the more difficult.

Make time … or allow time … for team members to strengthen their coworker relationships. When employees know and care for one another, they pitch in to help. They push themselves to the limit rather than let down their colleagues. And they get through the changes a great deal easier and a great deal more quickly.

=> 6. DO give people meaningful rewards … especially during changing times.

People lose their enthusiasm for a project or an organization if they don’t see some kind of reward. So you’ve got to have an answer to their ever-burning question, “What’s in it for me?” And you’d better have a great answer to their question if you want to see a positive response to change.

You just can’t expect your employees to care that much about the change if they don’t share in the rewards of that change. You can’t expect them to stay committed to excellence and you can’t expect them to stay charged up if they see all the rewards going to the executives, the corporate bottom line, or the shareholders.

Whether it’s a monetary bonus to be shared or special gifts to be given, just make sure your people get their deserved fair share. And if there is no particular monetary reward, there’s always some thanks and recognition to be given.

And perhaps one of the lesser known rewards is giving your people a chance to shape the change process. You’ll be amazed at the buy-in. For example, Ameritech sent one of their accountants to each one of their offices, held up one report at a time, and asked their people, “Do you need this report?” As a result of listening to what their employees said, Ameritech dropped 6,000,000 pages of reports that no one ever read.

Change is inevitable. And change can kill off job commitment. But it doesn’t have to. Change can be used to charge up your organization … if you handle it correctly.

The tribal chief that gave me the Coke knew that. He had figured that after clawing my way through the jungle for four days, I would be desperately grateful for a Coke. He was right.

After I finished drinking it, I was swarmed by villagers trying to sell me things. They were committed to getting the most out of this trekker. And they were successful. I felt so grateful that I bought a huge amount of tribal crafts.

Action:  Ask your people what kinds of rewards would be meaningful to THEM. Don’t guess. Don’t presume you know. ASK. And then give them those kinds of rewards whenever you see them making significant progress toward your change initiatives.