As they say, “The only constant in life is change.” Change is inevitable. This is critical in business, because if you are not changing, you are not growing. If you are not growing, you are going out of business. So how do you enable the right kind of change? Let’s examine further.
Directives aren’t particularly effective in driving sustained behavior change because we all like to feel as if we are in control of our choices. Why do people buy a product, use a particular service, or take a specific action? Because we want to. When others try to influence our decisions, we don’t just go along. We naturally resist the change at first. We avoid doing what is suggested because we don’t want to feel like someone else is controlling us.
Our innate anti-change radar raises our defenses, so we avoid or ignore the message or, even worse, counter-argue, conjuring up all the reasons why what someone else suggested is a bad idea. Like an overzealous high school debater, we poke and prod and raise objections until the persuasive power of the message crumbles.
So, if telling people what to do doesn’t work, what does? Rather than trying to persuade people, getting them to persuade themselves is often more effective. Here are five simple ways to do that:
- Identify a problem or gap.You can increase people’s sense of freedom and control by pointing out a disconnect between their thoughts and actions, or between what they might recommend for others versus do themselves. In business, there are always better ways to do things in order to increase revenue, reduce costs, be more efficient, or simply make things easier for employees or customers.
Listen to your people. Find out what is holding them back. Discover their frustrations that keep them and the company from being the best and empower them to take ownership in determining an ideal future state. People will not change until there is a vision of a brighter future and a pathway to get there.
- Ask meaningful questions.Being forceful can make people feel threatened. Thinking through a series of questions leads people to clarity. If people are not clear and have a full understanding of a situation, they will not be confident to do something different. Questions also shift the listener’s role. Rather than being defensive and counter-arguing or thinking about all the reasons they disagree; they’re sorting through their answer to your query and their feelings or opinions on the matter. This shift increases buy-in. It encourages people to commit to the conclusion, because while people might not want to follow someone else’s lead, they’re more than happy to follow their own. The answer to the question isn’t just any answer; it’s their answer, reflecting their own personal thoughts, beliefs, and preferences. That makes it more likely to drive action.
- Discover a better way.People will not move until there is a better alternative to the way things are being done and the value of the change is convincing. Involving them in the problem-solving process is key. Ensure they identify the actual root problem, not just symptoms. Brainstorm an array of ideas. Be creative and innovative. In most cases, the process is more powerful than the change itself. Have the team prioritize the new solutions and the right one will emerge as the obvious choice. Now you have buy-in.
- Set expectations.Now that you have everyone on board and excited about change, break it up into manageable pieces so it does not overwhelm them in the process. Develop a plan, start off slow, delegate different elements of the change to the right people, create ownership and accountability, and allow for necessary course corrections along the way. Finally, give them permission to make a mistake … it’s going to happen. Trust them to manage themselves in identifying the mistake, fighting through it, and making it right.
- Take action.Nothing happens in life without action. Unless people see the organization taking action, and the action steps are effective, people will retreat to the “old ways” and what they know (aka – comfort zones). Be committed, follow through, and recognize and reward success along the way. Always keep moving forward and striving for excellence.
Change is hard, especially in today’s world of constant noise and distraction. Developing a culture of change is a must in order to keep up, remain relevant, and outpace the competition. The only way to be successful is for leaders to empower people to contribute at the highest levels possible, lean on their expertise, and allow others to own the change management process. Make business about people and positive change, and you will always win!