helping people through change

20th August 2018

It was Benjamin Franklin, writing in 1789 who was said to have made the comment, “the only certainties in life are death and taxes.” Two hundred years later there are a load of other things we could add, but CHANGE is the one factor that seems to be a permanent feature of my clients personal and professional lives.

For most organisations change is a fact of life. Not changing is not an option and standing still ultimately results in organisations falling behind. As a result, managers and leaders that I work with and coach can feel ‘punch drunk’ at the scale and pace of change they experience around them.

Their teams show signs of ‘burn out.’ People are tired, disengaged and feeling the pinch of increased workloads. People feel worried about their jobs, and there can often be a real, palpable sense of weariness at the prospect of learning ‘something new.”

I recently did a poll with a number of my corporate contacts, asking them what’s the bigger priority, getting managers to buy into the changes that are being made or supporting them in driving the change themselves? For the most part most people said that the biggest single challenge is getting managers to buy in. Getting managers to understand the big picture and so that they can get others on board, seemed like the top priority for many!

As ever there’s no easy answer here, but I’ve used the following idea to help people identify the types of actions to take when we are trying to build a momentum for change.

It’s based on a paper by by Donald T. Tosti, PhD, CPT, and John Amarant, CPT entitled ‘Energy investment – beyond competence.’

Many of the people that I work with are expected to deliver change, and at a pace; which can mean they try and force change with their team. So, it’s no wonder managers talk of ‘resistors’ and ‘blockers’ and people who are ‘just negative’ about a forthcoming change.

You can use this model to understand, peoples attitude to change and the level of energy that they are expending towards or against it. Clearly the aim is to build your own ‘Active Supporters.’

So, here’s a few top tips;

Your Active Resistors, whilst exhausting they are at least engaging with the change. In so much as they are finding all the problems and issues with your idea. Think about how you can encourage them to share the ‘weaknesses’ they’ve spotted along with a potential solution for each. The focus here is on redirecting their energies;

  •  Challenge your experienced ‘cynics’ to come up with some solutions.
  • Ask what they need for them to feel part of the change

Passive supporters, are those people who are supporting your change but in a less obvious, more ‘under the radar’ way. the focus here is to encourage them to take action, rather than wait and watch, so you can focus on;

  • Asking what is going on for them? How do they feel about the change? What problems do they foresee that we could work on?
  • Finding out what they need in order to take the first steps – and set some clear expectations
  • In addition, an appeal to the importance of their role can be effective, for example, “We need you as an active partner out there doing things. We can’t hope to deliver high customer value without you.”

Passive resistors, are those people who often act as if they are powerless to influence events and may conduct themselves as “victims.” They appear minimally engaged with their work or the team, they are just “doing their jobs” and little more.  The focus for this group, needs to include all of the above, supported by messages from senior management that give people the confidence to take risks. And, as with cynics, there must be follow up.

Managers must be prepared to accept the inevitable mistakes when people try new things—and respond with support and advice, not punishment or criticism. If we ask people to stick their necks out in support of change, we must make sure the first efforts are not so painful that no one wants to take a chance again.

These messages, coupled with visible action and support throughout the organization, can also go far toward bringing some of the Passive Resistors out of their shells.

Most change communication events are designed for the players—those who readily take action to initiate change. They ignore the population of cynics and spectators who often make up a substantial portion of the audience.

Communication of change needs to consider how to appeal to each of these “market segments” in the employee population. Spectators need the motivation and confidence to take action. Cynics need to be convinced that the change effort is real and that they can genuinely influence the results.

I work with lots of organisations, helping them to build support for change. Drop me a message if you’d like to find out more about how we can work with your own managers to build commitment and momentum for lasting change!!