Change, at the individual or organizational level, is both essential and challenging. People typically have an aversion to change that’s hard-wired into our brains, shares Leigh Burger, Principal Customer Success Manager at Adobe, who spoke during an Adobe webinar called The Anatomy of Change. It’s not surprising that the vast majority (60-70%) of change initiatives fail, mostly because of people’s natural resistance to change. “Millions of years ago, our ancestors lived in a world in which physical danger was ever-present,” says Burger.
As people in business environments, we’re constantly monitoring our environments for threats, even though we're not really in any physical danger. People's automatic responses to change are not intentional, but are instead hard-wired by millions of years of evolution.
7 best practices for driving change
Being intentional about driving change takes coordination, time, and constant effort. “If a change is coming, [leaders] tend to send out the emails to notify folks of the change, but they’re not actually doing much of anything to manage or lead people through the change in a very positive way,” Burger says.
No matter how much technology or process is involved in the transformation, the change will not happen without human beings adopting the desired behavioral changes.
We can’t “force” anyone to change, says Burger, but we can influence them. Here’s how:
1. Address the emotion and fear. The first job of change management is to get people to move past their initial, automatic aversion to change. Change begins when people move beyond their reflexive fear and start thinking. “Perhaps the fear involves a potential change in their role or fear of losing their job. Perhaps it's fear of losing control, agency, or status,” says Burger. When people are afraid, their emotions can negatively impact their logic and their ability to act.
Effective change managers immediately address the emotions that people feel in order to move them to a place where they can think more logically about the change.
2. Define the vision. What will life look like for stakeholders after the change? You should be asking for people’s input as you define and drive the vision behind the change. “Hopefully that process looks like a conversation, a two-way dialogue where you have the opportunity to understand other people’s perspectives,” says Burger, “as well as influence and address any questions or fears people may have.” You can't address what you're not aware of and you don't want “surprise obstacles” slowing the change management process.
You’ll need to motivate your teams with a strong vision, then align that vision to the execution of the change. Doing that allows you to track and monitor progress against strategic goals to ensure success and drive results, notes Burger.
3. Articulate why you're making the change. The why is so critical to helping stakeholders understand and jump on-board with the change. “What I recommend is writing down all the reasons why, then distilling them into something memorable, something people can easily make their own and tell to others,” Burger says.
If your team has trouble answering why they're working on a change initiative, their work becomes directionless. You need a clear plan, articulated well, and your entire organization needs to be brought on board.
4. Map out the stakeholders. List the groups and teams that will be impacted by this change. If you're not sure whether a group might be impacted, go ask them. Next, think about and list the people you think might become an impediment to the change. “The reason you need to ID these folks is because research shows that emotional contagion is a real thing,” Burger says, “so if you have someone that's a naysayer and not willing to give the change a try, that can impact the whole group.”
Consider what you can do to strategically influence the naysayers. Perhaps it's a conversation about agreeing to disagree, but with the ability to gain agreement for the good of the whole team. Also consider giving the naysayers an active role to keep them close, which can become a strategic advantage downstream.
5. Set clear expectations. What does a timeline for change look like? When do you actually expect the adoption of the change? When do you expect to see something different happening consistently? “There's typically a beginning, a messy middle, and hopefully full adoption at the end,” says Burger.
Have a transparent timeline and communication tools that allow for updates and input. And while planning is great, you also need to be willing to change plans if needed. The critical part is staying in constant communication with your stakeholders.
6. Have the communication tools you need. If you're going to lead a complex change management process, the question becomes “what tools do you need to make the change happen?” What are the tools you're going to employ to provide stakeholders with what they need to support the change. Consistent communication is critical for success, and it can’t be one-way.
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. So in addition to using email as a tool, you should consider fireside chats, one-on-ones, leveraging frontline managers, an open Slack or team channel,” says Burger.
Marketing statistics tell us that we need 7 to 10 touch points before they take action on a purchase, so imagine the touches and the influencing factors that need to happen when asking someone to change their behavior. Talking to people matters, so don’t just rely on email or digital channels.
7. Self-care for change managers. Leading change can mean that we have to step outside of our comfort zones. And that means we can feel vulnerable, which takes courage. We need to ask others what they think, and understand that we may not have all the answers. “Trust is a product of vulnerability – it grows over time and it requires work and attention and full engagement,” Burger says.
As an agent of change, it's essential that you keep yourself centered and “don't deplete yourself. You can't give what you don't have, so take good care of yourself,” which might mean exercising, sleeping, and good nutrition, among other things.
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