There’s kind of a truth hiding in plain sight when it comes to change management in the eyes of business leaders like yourself. It's ok, we can speak directly. We’re amongst friends.
The truth about change management is that you don’t care about change management.
We’re not saying that you don’t care about your people’s well-being, we’re saying that you don’t think about it in terms of “change management.” You might think of it in terms of efficiency, output, and employee satisfaction. It's normal. As a leader, you’re responsible for hitting targets, for actualizing broad company goals, for aligning with regulatory policy, not to mention shareholder perception and demands (if you happen to be a particular kind of large organization).
The challenge many leaders face is how to balance culture, metrics, and sentiment on the way to organizational success.
Of course, not everything can be done by consensus, and not everyone is going to be over the moon about changes that will impact their day-to-day life—although we hope a good number of the changes your staff are seeing are positive for them, even if it might take them some time to understand that.
We know that you might not think about shepherding your people from current state to future state in terms of change management lexicon like stakeholder impacts, case for change, impact assessments, readiness assessments, change saturation, and change activities, but you know that limiting the amount of hurdles and impacts to your people only acts as a feedback loop of empowerment for them. If they feel empowered, heard, and respected, then hitting your company goals and reaching company success becomes a whole lot easier (and much more tenable than just cracking the whip screaming “Because I said so!”)
With that, we have five tips to help you look like someone who understands change management, even if you never outwardly think about it in those terms.
1. Know the playing field / WIIFM
Maybe the most important thing you can do as a leader is walk a mile in the shoes of those people who are going to be most impacted by an upcoming change. This isn’t just about showing empathy or sympathy to be liked, but it’s about seeing the world from a vantage point other than your own.
From that angle you get a better understanding of how everyone’s perception is their own reality. If you can understand this reality, and the general complications and pressures that come with it, you can imagine what messages might resonate the best. You can focus on what actions you can take that might clear a roadblock for these employees. Those actions might be smaller than you realize.
Think about how you’d answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) posed by one of your staff. Your answer will show that you’re thinking about their well-being, and their day-to-day reality (whether they’re walking miles, sitting in computer chairs, or something else).
2. Get in front
You might not realize it, but your staff is watching your every more. Body language, the words you use, your tone, your example. And this goes for the things they don’t see, as well. If the people under your purview see you as someone who is hidden in a high castle (or glass office), you lose relatability. You will be “a suit” or “a sellout” or some other words we shouldn't mention here.
If your staff feels distance from you, it’s rarely because they feel like you are so far out in front of them. No, they feel like they are going into battle, and you are behind them on a hill looking on with binoculars.
So, get on your horse—and off your high horse—and get in front of them. Show them what you feel, your flaws, your vulnerabilities, and your willingness to be with them, or at the very least talk to them eye-to-eye (you’ll have to get off all kinds of horses at this point).
It’s no mistake that the verb “lead” is what makes up the noun “leader.” You don’t need to utter the line of Robert the Bruce at the end of Braveheart, “You have bled with Wallace, now bleed with me,” but you certainly need to lead them.
Work, while an important aspect of life, can’t always feel like a chore. In fact, “work” is both a verb and a noun. We can both do work and be at work. Well, while at work, don’t forget to celebrate people for doing work.
No, folks do not need cakes and cookies for every little thing they do, but baking in some arbitrary milestones, recognizing folks in interesting ways, patting people on the back, or just saying, “Hey, thanks for your efforts on ______. It was great,” does more than you might think.
We won’t go so far as to say that coworkers are family, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be familial and collegiate.
Camaraderie and recognition keep work from being a drag.
4. Repeat yourself
If an email was sent and nobody read it, did communication happen?
We all wish that the person on the other end of our first email understood completely and agreed with what we had to say. Thankfully, we are not cyborgs. Life is richer for it. But in this very human existence, the adage goes that people need to hear or see a message at least seven different times before it sinks in.
We know, annoying. But hey, get used to it.
Communication doesn’t happen just because you said something. Communication happens when the message you intended to share is acknowledged and understood.
In a busy office with email, Slack, meetings, and actual work, it’s no surprise that people prioritize certain things and in-one-ear-and-out-the-other other things.
So, if you want your message to land, you’re going to have to repeat it. And it is best to repeat it in different mediums. Sure, email, but face-to-face, posters, podcasts, intranet, videos, whatever.
If you don’t feel like a broken record then you’re not doing it right.
5. Find your own allies
One of the biggest mistakes we see leaders make when trying to steer a large initiative is that they think they must do it solo. You can be into points 1-4 above all you want, but at some point, you must lean on colleagues or other people leaders to help with some of the lifting.
You need coalitions, lieutenants, and thought partners to help you strategize, get messages out, and garner feedback. But these people are not going to come running. They won’t feel it in the wind. You have to ask for help (not something leaders are quick to do).
Not only does building an ally network help make the change go more smoothly, but it will also reduce the stress that would otherwise fall directly on your shoulders.
Build your ally network early on. Share with them what you need. Listen to their input.
Nobody does anything alone. Not even you.
Speaking of not having to be alone on any change management journey, we at ChangeAnalytics have built an end-to-end platform for you and the people leading change at your organization to better manage, sequence, and track projects so that people adopt the changes coming their way, and so you can ultimately succeed at the business goals you’ve set for yourselves.