People do not fear change; they fear loss.
As a manager and leader, you’ve got to bring your people through one change after another. It’s almost a part of your job description. And yet, you may have never received any training in how to do that. To make matters worse, your people may be confused, resistant, or disheartened. And you’re not even able to offer them job security, company loyalty, and steady career advancement as rewards for their change-ability.
So what can you do to build and maintain a productive work force under these conditions? As best you can, you’ve got to provide SEVEN CONDITIONS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE. It’s one of the things I teach in my program on “Mastering Change: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Taking Risks, and Getting Results.”
=> 1. Participation
People tend to change when they have participated in the decision to change. And if that’s not possible, people need … at the very least … to feel like participants in the communication process surrounding the change.
Prepare your employees. Let them know what is going to happen. Give your people as much information as they need and want as early as possible. Tamitsu Shibutani, a noted Japanese authority says, “If you don’t give people information, they’ll make it up, and it won’t be flattering.”
You’ve got to avoid surprises. Too often companies present change as a series of surprises. “Surprise! Surprise! Tomorrow your job will be different.” People’s first response to anything that is a total surprise is resistance.
=> 2. Rewards
People tend to change when they see the rewards exceed the pain. People don’t get committed if they don’t see some kind of reward. So don’t avoid the burning “what’s-in-it-for-me” question, and make sure you’ve got a great answer.
=> 3. Models
People tend to change when they see others changing, particularly people they value. Like it or not, as the manager or leader, you set the climate. Your coworkers are always watching you to see what they should do. So show your passion for the change. Let them see it in your actions and hear it in your words.
Express your feelings. People want to know your reactions. In fact, your self-disclosure can be a very powerful, bonding strategy because — more often than not — you reflect what your people are feeling. And they’ll end up being a lot more open with you.
=> 4. Acceptance
As your people go through change, there will probably be a few mistakes and failures along the way. That’s okay — if your people work in an environment that is free from threat and judgment. The best change leaders know there has to be some no-fault, trial-and-error learning experiments along the way.
But you may have to remind your people that they will still be valued — even if they experience a little failure implementing the change. After all, as Henry Ford said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.”
Let your people know that failure is the other side of success. Guidance counselor Bob Atkinson says, “If you’re not failing pretty regularly, you’re working below your capacity — which is a failure in and of itself.” Look around. Behind every success there are failures. The legendary baseball player Pie Traynor was considered to be one of the greatest infielders of all time, but he also committed more errors than any other third baseman in the history of the National League. Many of his errors came as a result of his willingness to go for the more difficult plays, plays that his colleagues did not attempt.
If you accept your people, occasional failures can be used as a motivational force. Failure can motivate — if it’s handled correctly.
Some use failure as an excuse to give up while others use failure as a prod to go on. When Roger Bannister failed to win a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics, the failure motivated him to become the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, a goal that was considered unattainable. Two years later he achieved his goal and set off a wave of world-wide celebration. Bannister said, “My failure made me look for one more challenge.”
=> 5. Trust
People tend to change when they trust the motives of their change leaders. So talk to your people face to face. It’s very difficult to build trust through a memo or newsletter.
In fact memos and newsletters are a very poor way to inform people of important changes. Rather than encourage the exchange of feelings, written announcements are often used to avoid people and their feelings.
And when you do talk face to face, tell the truth. Change always brings loss. So acknowledge their loss — rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.
And change always threatens people’s security. Don’t deny the threat. Tell them how you see the change affecting individual employees and the organization as a whole.
=> 6. Competency
Competency cannot be overemphasized. People are more likely to change when they have the knowledge or skills required by the change. So train, train, train. As Jerry Stead, President of AT&T Communication Systems used to say, “We can’t promise you job security, but we can promise to make you better than anyone else at your job. So if something happens, you can find a job inside or outside AT&T.”
=> 7. Success
Lastly, as the leader, make sure your people “see” success. Your coworkers are more likely to change when they “see” that the change has been successful somewhere else. Most people want some assurance that it’s been tried and it works. So tell stories and give lots of examples of how successful the change has been in other locations.
Action: Look at a change taking place in your organization. And look at the 7 conditions for positive change. Select the 3 conditions that need some extra attention and focus on what you can do to provide more of those three.