How to get people on-board, engaged, and involved in a climate of constant/continuous change

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

How to get people on-board, engaged, and involved in a climate of constant/continuous change

This seems to be a constant challenge for many organizations. But it doesn’t have to be such a big problem.

There are three reasons why its hard to get people on-board during a climate of constant change.

They don’t get it. They don’t understand the reasons why yet another change is needed. “Didn’t we just change that last year?”

In the classic book, Good to Great, Jim Collins found that the so-called great companies didn’t do big things to get a major changes started. Collins’ team found that people — at all levels –in these organizations¬† knew what was going on. People were kept in the loop.

My favorite approach is called Open Book Management. There is no one-size-fits-all open book approach. I was talking to the CEO of a hospital who told me that his organization was facing all the same challenges that others hospitals faced, yet he didn’t get a lot of resistance. I asked why. He told me that he spends a lot of time in meetings. He reserves the final three to four minutes to tell people what’s “on his screen.” He draws from the classic strategic planning SWOT categories – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. He is not trying to talk people into anything; he simply letting them in on the things that are grabbing his attention.

John Case has written many books on Open Book Management. Read any of them and you will find a wide variety of ways to open the books. The one thing that ties all those approaches together is that the leaders trusted people with information.

The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack may be where all this open book stuff started. In the book, he tells how he and two partners bought a company and was strapped by an 89:1 debt to equity ration. (Translation: servicing the massive debt every month was a constant challenge.) He explains why they treated employees like owners, and how they engaged them in building the business. The book is well worth reading.

They don’t like it. This is an emotional reaction to the change. Why me? Why now? There goes my retirement. etc. etc. etc. Once again Open Book Management can help. It gives people an opportunity to come to terms with the reality in front of them.

And then you need to find ways to actively engage people in the change. People tend to support things they help create. That’s not late breaking news, but it seems to be a missed bit of knowledge in many organizational changes. Hint: PowerPoint presentations do not count as engagement. People must be compelled to roll up their sleeves and produce something of value (not reports, not walls full of brainstormed ideas – -but actual ideas that will be turned into action.)

Lots of good resources on this, but I encourage you to, at least, take a look at my book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance (2010). It is available in e-format as well as print. Be sure to purchase the 2010 edition.

And the final reason why people may have such trouble with constant change:

They don’t trust you. When they look at the leadership team they see the Keystone Kops (a group of funny, but inept, police officers from silent movie days). Even though you may provide good information (ala Open Book Management) and engage people in helping plan and implement the changes, they may still balk because they don’t believe you have what it takes to lead a change like this successfully. If you use an executive coach, this would be a good time to give him or her a call. And, you might take a look at Beyond the Wall of Resistance for some guidance.

I wish you well.


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