Three proven steps to drive powerful changes in a conservative organization

I recently read that 70% of CEOs expect to change their business model in the next three years.  That’s huge.  So in a time when things are changing so fast, it’s very important to build a flexible organization that can adapt quickly and embraces the need for change. This is the hardest part though because our brain is not wired for change.  What can you do to fight resistance and implement change in a conservative workplace? In this article, I’ve identified three actionable steps that I recommend taking if you’re about to launch a new change initiative:

1. Set the foundations for change

In my experience, there are two important foundations to set. First, define clearly the vision for change. I have seen too many leaders launch change initiatives without defining the vision. Just business objectives. People need a vision for making changes because, as mentioned earlier, their brain is not hardwired for change. Change worries us, as it’s often related to uncertainty. I strongly recommend having clarity on the vision for change. Do you have one? Is it bold and desirable enough for employees to embrace it and feel part of the change? Is it clear and easy to understand for everyone? Is it going to make a huge impact on people (not just companies)? Do employees feel engaged with the vision? Is it memorable? A positive answer to these questions will tell you if your vision for change is the right one. As a result, you’ll see your employees talk more about change and want to be involved. Second, I recommend building an internal steering committee. A coalition made by people who have a mandate to make change happen. This is not your executive team. This is a diverse team made by people who can be the right change agents regardless of their title, seniority or role. These are people who have a strong influence, they are well listened and respected internally. They can be also strong opinion leaders.  So ask yourself a question: Who are the best influencers in the organization? Who can mobilize people better than anyone else? Who has the right energy level and grit to make things happen?

2. Anticipate resistance

There are many different theories about resistance. The one I like the most (“The thirds”) describes that every organization can be broken down into three equal groups of people:
  • ⅓ support – who embrace change easily and quickly
  • ⅓ watch and wait – who need to be convinced
  • ⅓ resist – who won’t accept any change
The most interesting group is clearly the second third. The “watch and wait”. This is the group you need to focus your attention on because if you influence them, the majority of your organization will follow your vision for change. How do you know who belongs to these groups? The first step is to assess the level of internal resistance because you need to develop a different message to address each of them. In fact, each of these groups can be motivated differently. Take the promoters. You don’t need a message to inspire them to embrace the change. You need a message to inspire them to influence the other thirds to get on board. On the other hand, take the resisters. Most likely, they will resist until the end. So your message must be well crafted and perfectly delivered.  This doesn’t guarantee success though. If they resist despite your best efforts, you have to make some tough decisions, because the more they are involved in the change initiative in a negative way, the more chances there are they will influence the “watch and wait” group. Finally, about this group – the “watch and wait”, this should be your main focus. This is normally a group made by people who have been through a change in the past and didn’t like it. So this time, they are concerned about another change. Try first to understand their personal situation and motivation. Ask the change agents from the steering committee to get involved and talk to them. Then, offer them some “anchors” to hold during change. For example, you can offer to an individual to embrace the change but let him stay in the same location, keep the same job title/salary, or the same team.

3. Mobilize employees

After having set the right foundations and fought resistance, as a change leader, communication must be your next top priority. My recommendation is to over-communicate your vision for change. At any level and occasion.  Unfortunately, I still see some leaders who launch change initiatives with fanfare at large corporate events or on the media and then quickly disappear. Instead, I want you to be involved from the beginning to the end. If your people understand that change is important to you, they will put change on top of their priorities too. Besides your personal involvement, you need to be the first to embrace the change. In fact, most of the change initiatives do require a level of behavioral change too. So, be the first to show to the entire organization that you lead the way. You’re the message. Don’t ask them to change first.  Finally, be very strategic by identifying some early wins for building momentum in the short term. In fact, most change projects take time to be implemented or to show big results. If you wait until the end to celebrate success and praise employees, the project will only generate burnout, stress, and disengagement. The more small wins you set, the more chances you have to keep the momentum and motivation for longer. Change has often a negative connotation because brings fear and uncertainty. However, with the right process, change can be fun and very engaging. But it’s up to you to make this happen. Listen to the podcast related to this article:
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