Industryweek 28281 Tightrope

A Fresh Approach to Managing Change

March 7, 2018
People don’t fear change – they fear being changed.

Businesses are usually started because they either make something exceptionally well, or they have an outstanding service that they hope will be competitive in the marketplace.  Most often they are very good at making or doing the “thing” of their business, but generally, they do it with their heads down, tackling with grit and sweat, the challenges they encounter, and often ending up wondering why that isn’t enough to win.

That wondering then leads them to conclude that things must change. They have come to this conclusion either through best guess analysis of whatever key performance indicators they might have or because they feel the business is just not profiting as it should be. Proceeding to do everything they can to make the changes, they most often completely forget or ignore that change is about people. People don’t fear change – they fear being changed!

After more than 30 years of engaging at all sizes and levels of organizations, from the enterprise level of a large 30,000+ person company to a very small 3-person company; I have that found this method of looking at the change journey is powerful for the most critical element of change – the people.

I have found these steps to be useful tools.

Convince your team that the “house is on fire.”  There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that staying where the business is now (whatever the “fire” is) will be terminal to the business but more importantly, terminal to their lifestyle and job.

“Get your people to the roof so they can use the methods you have to make the change” – they must get themselves ready mentally for the change and look for it.

 Provide a very clear vision of the “chest of gold on the house they have to move to” -- in other words, make the future so appealing that they want to get to the new roof.

Make it clear that you have a trustworthy and successful means of “swinging them over to the new roof” – even when it looks like a trapeze artist swinging from a cloud of uncertainty. You must be confident and be willing to share that absolute confidence at any moment, that the change is the right thing to do now.

Persuade your people that if there are individual or team mistakes on the journey, you will protect them. They must believe you will keep them safe on the journey if the mistakes are of innocent intent while trying to move forward on the prescribed journey.

Finally, once you and your team have made the initial move to the new “change, then you must continually remind them and re-enforce that there is no going back to the old way of doing business.  There must be a measure of acceptance of mistakes or slippages, but that measure must be well defined and not accepting of critical or damaging “going back”. 

In conclusion: leading a company for long-term success requires the CEO to adopt this “people view” of any changes to the company that they have created it. To not do so is to seriously risk becoming a casualty of the marketplace and of your competition.

Theodore P.A. Haenlein, is a project director at Cogent Analytics

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