Six Rules For Better Change Management

You’re going to get through the change one way or another. You’re going to sail through it or stumble through it.

Sure, I’ve been traveling and speaking around the world for years. So 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. I wanted to check out a primitive tribal village that I had read about in “National Geographic.” And indeed, it was somewhat like I had expected. The village had thatched roof huts, a few smoky fires, and the people were wearing loin clothes, beads, and feathers.

Then the chief greeted me and offered me a Coca Cola. Honest to God!

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Change is EVERYWHERE. No matter what kind of industry you’re in, you’re probably going through tons of gut-wrenching change. And the same is true for your company, your department, and your customers. Change is everywhere.

Unfortunately, I see an awful lot of people waste an awful lot of time talking about the change. They talk about whether or not it’s fair. You can’t do that. It’s a waste of your time. You need to accept the fact that change is here, and it’s your task to deal with it.

Of course, I’m not naive. I know change can be nasty, and that nastiness has to be addressed. After all, downsizings, outplacements, restructurings, reorganizations, layoffs, and mergers can have a devastating impact on employee commitment. As consultant and author Price Pritchett says, those things “can kill the spirit … and … rip the heart out of an organization.”

It may be your job to make sure the devastation doesn’t stay. And it may be your job to refuel the commitment. You may be responsible for keeping your energies high at the same time you fire up others.

I know that’s what I get hired to do in seminar after seminar. People keep asking me how they can survive, even prosper, in these changing times. They want to know how they can use change to bring out the best in their organization and their people.

Let me give you a few tips.

=> 1. Start By Demonstrating Your Own Passionate Commitment To The Change.

That’s especially true 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 you do little more than put in your time, waiting for the next early retirement program, you can’t expect your people to be committed to the change. In fact, your people will never get more excited than you happen to be.

So you need to 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. Then Demonstrate Unwavering Commitment To Your People.

That’s not easy. In today’s rapid world of change, you can’t guarantee lifetime employment. You can’t even protect your people from the 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. Give A Mighty Sense Of Purpose.

People get fired up by a cause or a dream. They work for something they believe in. And if they don’t have that, they’re in trouble. Even the Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

So don’t fool yourself. Your people don’t work for a “company” or someone else’s organizational objective — such as “increased market share.” They work for a purpose. And they’ll get on board your change initiatives if they can see the purpose.

You need to follow the example of the great companies. They give a mighty sense of purpose.

=> 4. Give People The Power To Succeed.

Most people want to make a difference. So if you empower people to do exactly that, they get even more committed to the change.

Unfortunately, change can make people feel helpless — especially if they have no power to influence it. 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 some power over some sector of his/her work. Help them see that they can do something to affect their circumstances and shape the future. The Ritz-Carlton Hotels, for example, empower each employee to spend up to $2000 to do whatever he/she can to rectify a customer complaint — right on the spot — no questions asked!

And does that get their employees committed to Ritz Carlton’s change initiative — to keep on giving better and better service? You bet!

=> 5. Give People A Re-Energized Sense Of Connectedness.

Change can disrupt your employees’ work relationships. Teams may be disbanded, and colleagues may be relocated. And all of that can weaken your employee’s emotional attachment to the organization and its mission.

You’ve got to take some time to build and rebuild your work relationships. You’ve got to help people feel like they belong to a tightly knit group. 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.

=> 6. Finally, Give People A Piece Of The Process And The Product.

People have a hard time getting committed to a change if they see no benefit in the change — for them. They’ve got to see some kind of reward. It’s human nature.

So don’t get upset if your people ask the “what’s-in-it-for-me” question. They’ve got a right to know, and you’d better have a good answer.

You can’t expect your employees to get all excited and committed to a change initiative if they don’t share in the rewards of their hard work. You can’t expect their continued commitment if they see all the rewards going to the executives, the shareholders, or the corporate bottom line. Just make sure your people get their deserved fair share.

Of course, rewards don’t have to be financial. Give people a chance to shape a piece of the change process, and that in itself could be highly rewarding. For example, Ameritech eliminated 6,000,000 pages of financial reports by simply having one of their accountants travel to each office, hold up one report at a time, and asking their people, “Do you need this report?” They were given the chance to shape the reporting process in their company, and they loved it.

Change can kill job commitment. But it doesn’t have to. Change can be used to charge up your people and your organization. If you do any of the things I’ve outlined above, your employees will stay motivated and committed.

The tribal chief that gave me the Coca Cola 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 me. And they were successful. I felt so grateful that I bought a number of their tribal crafts.

The guidelines I’ve outlined, and my program on “Mastering Change” will get you well on the way to refueling the commitment in your organization. Give me a call and we’ll talk about a program for your group.

Action:  List 10 tools that people need to have so they can be successful in the midst of change. Put a * by each one of the tools you have given your people — whether it be in the form of training, motivation, or anything else.

And then select two tools that your people do not have but need to acquire. Write out an action plan that details how you will ensure the fact that your people will get the tools they need.