3 Things Great Leaders Know About Managing Change

I’m working with a client right now who is leading his organization through a massive restructuring.  He engaged me to help with the inevitable human reactions to monumental change.

My favorite line I heard from him on enabling his employees to accomplish the transition successfully is:

“I can’t just hand them a business card with a new title and expect them to get it.”

No kidding.  I’ve seen so many in leadership positions expect a profound change to happen overnight.  Or expect their employees to instinctively know what to do.  Or threaten employees with some version of “Go along or get left behind.”

Great leaders know that human beings are complex, and that change will come with time.  I’ve heard that it even serves us well that adults don’t change on a dime, or our world would be in chaos!

I’m not saying that you should be spoon-feeding, but there are a few things great leaders know, that enable them to lead their employees successfully through change.

1. Humans are not resistant to change just to be difficult.

Sometimes it is about what academics Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey call “competing commitments.”

For example: Your employee is not taking on his new assignment as quickly as you might have wished.  Turns out he does not know how to gracefully transition his old work to the new owner of the work.  He doesn’t want to make his customer feel like he is passing the buck by referring her to the new assignee.

The more you can help your employees notice and identify what might be holding them back, and then coach them to navigate forward, the better and sooner you will reach the desired state.

2. Humans want to feel confident and competent.

It is only natural, particularly as adults, to not want to be viewed as fumbling around.  It is easy to psyche yourself out by thinking everyone but you gets whatever this new strategy/ procedure/ thing is.

Engage your employees in discussions, and ask good questions to help them begin to envision how things would work specifically for them, including where they would start, what obstacles they can anticipate, what success would look like.

Don’t let mistakes be viewed as abject failure.  Encourage every sign of progress.

3.  The more people articulate the vision of the change, the more they own it.

It's hard for humans to disagree with something they already said, especially when you have repeated it to them and made it a point to let them know they "got it."

Get people talking about how they understand the new vision, their role, expectations of them and their objectives.

Once you have given them the message of change, and yes, you have to repeat it, be sure you give them a chance to digest it with every communication.

Design activities and questions that help them verbalize how they understand things.  Help them think out loud.  Listen.  Be responsive when they point out how to improve the process.  Reinforce when they are going the right direction.

After awhile, we as humans begin to act as if the changes were our idea all along.

What do you as a great leader know about managing change?

Image from Flickr user-id Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden CC / 2.0