• 2nd January 2009 - By proteman

    • Do employees sigh and roll their eyes when they hear about a new change happening at your company?
    • Do veterans wait out or resist change because they know it’ll fade away – like a hundred other programs they’ve seen come and go?
    • Are you facing the rollout of a major change, but afraid that it’ll be perceived as another “flavor of the month” company initiative?

    If your organization has a legacy of shifting from one major change to the next, without much to show for it, expect resistance to anything touted as “new” by senior leadership.

    There’s a limit to how many times an employee can rally ’round a new initiative, shift gears, serve on change committees, get excited and raise their hopes…only to see the “important initiative” fizzle and disappear without much explanation. After a while, it’s understandable why people become cynical.

    So what’s a leader to do? If you’ve inherited a “flavor of the month” culture where cynicism for anything new abounds, what do you do? How do you implement change when a large part of your organization is just waiting for it to fail and go away?

    While there is no magic formula for implementing change successfully, there are some basics that almost every successful change initiative covers. The challenge is just doing them. I have found that most organizations fail in executing these basics of change management.

    Below is a checklist of basic elements that make change stick. It’s not comprehensive, so feel free to post your own change tips. If you do these things consistently – before, during and after change – you can earn organizational trust and turn even the most cynical employees into committed supporters of change.

    Over-communicate

    There’s a saying: Tell them what you’re going to say. Say it. Then tell them what you just said.

    Don’t be afraid to over-communicate in times of change. Ask questions, talk, exchange ideas, give updates, share success stories and seek feedback. You may feel like you’re repeating yourself, but repetition is how people learn, remember and believe. Think about religious services. People go week after week repeating the same prayers, but they’re still comforting. Repetition breeds familiarity and trust. Familiarity and trust is just what most people need to stay focused and motivated during the uncertainty and chaos that accompanies change.

    Prepare the “story” and paint the picture

    It’s human nature to want to feel involved. Employees want to know the big picture – the rationale behind the change, the vision and specifically where they fit in. Ask yourself: Can all leaders in our organization – in a consistent way – tell their employees the “story” behind the change, the rationale, and how they’ll be affected? Remember that employees talk. If leaders tell different stories about the change initiative, employees will lose trust – and the rumor mill will take over.

    Ask open-ended questions and listen

    Most leaders tend to ask closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions ask people to answer with a yes or no response – or make a choice between options you present. Why? They’re easy to ask, quick and safer than asking open-ended questions. (If I ask an open-ended question, what if I hear things I don’t want to hear?!!) In a follow-up blog, I’ll provide a “cheat sheet” of powerful open-ended questions leaders can ask during times of change.

    Set clear expectations
    Make sure your “story” includes your best, realistic estimate of how long the change initiative will take (most major change takes years). Obama did a good job of conveying this through his campaign. He tempered his uplifting vision of hope with a dose of realism. It’s not going to be easy. It may feel worse before it gets better. We’re going to require you to get involved.

    Celebrate successes and milestones

    This is easy to forget. In the chaos of change, leaders often lose site of the big picture and how far they’ve come. For morale, it’s critical to pause and celebrate even the smallest successes on the way to change. This celebration reminds people that progress is being made. Remember, change happens slowly (three steps forward, two steps back). It’s important to celebrate the three forward steps.
    Copyright 2008. Phyllis Roteman. The Loyalty Group. Sherman Oaks, CA.
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