How Can We Get People on Board, Engaged, and Involved in a Climate of Constant and Continuous Change?

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

(FAQ About Change #2)

It seems odd that nearly 2500 years ago Herodotus wrote that change is the only constant. So you’d think we’d know how to lead and manage change pretty well by now. But organizational changes are still a huge problem. No doubt you’ve heard that 70% of all changes in organizations fail. And you may also know that dreadful statistic hasn’t changed in the past 15 years. And what you certainly know is that change is becoming even more constant, more virtual, even faster, and just plain harder. So in that climate, how do you get people on board, willing to roll-up-their-sleeves, take on leadership roles, and make new initiatives a success?

There are three things you need to do:

  1. Ensure that everyone who needs to support this change knows exactly why a change is needed – and why it’s needed today.
  2. Demand that people get engaged in making decisions that affect their own futures.
  3. Make sure that every leader, manager, project manager, and anyone else for that matter, follows steps number one and two.

1. Ensure that everyone who you expect to support this change knows exactly why a change is needed – and why it’s needed today.

Don’t wait until you need people to do something different before you let them know what’s going on. Everyone needs to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing your organization. It’s not enough to just tell them. You must continually communicate in a way that grabs their attention. As I say to my clients, the things that keep you awake at night ought to be keeping everyone else awake.

There are many ways of keeping people in the loop. I find that Open Book Management is a particularly useful and adaptable process to follow. Open Book Management in your organization may look quite different than it does someplace else, and that’s the beauty of it. You’re giving people information in a way that makes sense to them and to the success of your unique organization.

For example, I knew a hospital CEO who gave everyone a one page quarterly report. On it were three major items: customer satisfaction, patient outcomes (the extent to which people got better or not), and financial performance. It showed movement over time for that hospital, for the healthcare system they were part of, and national survey data. That’s it. No sermons. No motivational speeches. Just critical data. He told me that this information got people talking. And it got them coming to him to express their concerns and suggestions when scores started to drop. In other words, people were coming to him with ideas for changing.

Other organizations use a process developed by the Great Game of Business consultants. They encourage work teams to hold weekly huddles. A huddle implies that people are standing around waiting to get back into the game and so this meeting better be quick. Each individual knows the number that he or she is shooting for that week. The supervisor quick simply goes around to everybody and asks, “What was your number this week? And what number did you actually hit?” No speeches. No admonitions. Just data.

Those are just two ways you can go about doing this. If you want other ideas, I would urge you to read any of the fine books written by John Case on the topic of Open Book Management. Or read Jack Stack’s fine book, The Great Game of Business.

2. Demand that people get involved in decisions that affect their own future.

Demand seems like a harsh word doesn’t it? You probably won’t need to demand that people get involved in decisions that are going to affect their lives. Most of us deeply want to have a say in our own futures. The demand part rests with you and your leadership team. It is way too tempting to try to move things along quickly and assume that people will go along, will be happy about the results, and that the change will come in on time and under budget. Let me ask you, when’s the last time that happened.

As a leader, you need to demand that you and other leaders and managers hold planning meetings that truly engage people. So, in addition to giving information, there needs to be ample time to react to it, and to help create strategies that work. Here’s a link to a checklist for what it takes to plan and conduct successful planning meeting. Planning Change Checklist

3. Make sure that every leader, manager, project manager, and anyone else for that matter follows steps number one and two.

Given the pace of work today, it’s very easy to lose sight of how fundamentally important it is to keep people in the loop and invite them to be part of shaping where you’re going on. Your job is to make sure that people are always in the loop and always feel a part of what’s going on. That doesn’t mean the people will be happy about every change. In fact, some changes might scare them. But you (and they) are far better off if they know what’s going on and can help shape the direction in some way.

One way to find out if people are in the loop is to ask them. Don’t do this in a big meeting. You don’t want people to lose face or be embarrassed. You could meet with people one-on-one, or by wandering around and allowing conversations to start, or focus groups. You might say, “I’m just curious what you’d say the top three priorities are for our business today.” Or, “What did you heard about the new IT project?” And, if they’ve heard about it, you might ask, “Does it make sense to you?” ”Is it confusing?” “Does it excite you?” And so on.

If you ask good questions without implying that you’re looking for a particular answer, or without interrupting them to give them the right answer, people are going to start talking. And when they do keep your ears open. If they know what’s going on you can hold a celebration silently. And if they don’t know what’s going on, don’t blame them. But figure out what’s missing. Why do I know things that are important for their work that they don’t know?

And those same questions can work for item number two. If people know what’s going on, then you can ask what you are doing to address that challenge or opportunity? And, the best thing you can do is ask them to keep quiet.

Since your job is to make sure that the entire leadership and management team is on board, you can use these conversations to find out how that’s working out. You ask about planning meetings? Are they helpful? Do their bosses ask their opinion? If so, what happens to those ideas once the meeting is over?

People don’t naturally want to resist change. People resist in reaction to something. And people can either support or they can resist, but they are rarely neutral. How you keep people informed and how you engage them in the process will be a huge determinant in whether or not they support or resist you. If you’d like to know more about resistance here’s a link to my article on why resistance matters. Why Resistance Matters and What You Can Do About It

I wish you well with your next change.

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