Change is never easy, even when the goal holds the promise of greater benefits for every person involved.
Facing a decision that likely will lead to an organizational shakeup?
Before you take news of a proposed change of product line, work environment, company mission or ownership to employees, consider it from every perspective. That way, when the time is right to unveil it, you aren’t blind-sided by questions you can’t answer or suggested results you hadn’t anticipated.
Why are you doing this? What’s the expected outcome? What’s the timeline and why is that the timeline? What inconveniences will it mean? Will jobs be cut or benefits changed? Acknowledging and respecting differing viewpoints doesn’t necessarily mean you acquiesce to them, but it does mean your final decision is very carefully considered and, in the big-picture scenario, the best result for the most stakeholders involved.
As you outline the change in your head or on paper, think also about assigning roles.
Every cause needs a sponsor; this is the highest authority you can usher in to rubberstamp the plan. While the CEO is fair game, if the change is being made on behalf of customers, also consider enlisting a major client to speak to his or her excitement about the direction your company is taking. (An iPhone testimonial is sufficient because you can save it on a laptop and project it to the audience at the optimal time).
Then select a champion or two or three, based on their ability to embrace and become energized by visionary work. These will be your ongoing communicants to reinforce the message.
You also will need a change agent for each operational phase, chosen for the affinity and respect other workers have for them. These will be your team leaders in the field. It’s ideal to let them know the plan in advance of a general employee meeting, though that isn’t always feasible.
Change means a mental or physical shift for employees from a concrete Point A to a virtual Point Z. Though employees rarely say it aloud, a legitimate knee-jerk response to any significant change is “What’s in it for me?”. Your primary task, then, is to create and communicate a vision they can understand and will be willing to embrace, with appropriate rewards for reaching the finish line. The prize isn’t always more of something good – sometimes it is less likelihood of something bad, as in less of a chance of layoffs or cutbacks.
While perhaps you cannot yet define micro-details or certainties, it’s critical to paint a picture that clearly explains both the reason for the change and the road you will take to get there, with as much clarity and detail as is practical. Don’t hide behind phrases like “to help us achieve better strategic advantage” – say instead, “to help us reach $300,000 in sales a quarter.” The more light you can shine on the destination and on the path you’ve chosen to take to get there, the less resistance you should get from your team.
If your target audience has no influence or control over the budget, they won’t care as much about line-item expenses as they will about changes to their workload, environment, schedule or production goals. Don’t gloss over what concerns them most; while your goal is the lofty mountain top, the valley between where you are and where you want them to go is where fear and resistance breed. Help them bridge it with clear checkpoints, reasonable expectations and strong leadership.
Change is never easy, even when the goal holds the promise of greater benefits for every person involved. Change leadership demands a clear plan, implacable nerves, enthusiastic change agents, empathy, and practical green light/red light markers along the way, where you can realistically check your progress and make any necessary adjustments to your timeline or secondary goals.
Check, check, check? Your mountaintop awaits.