All teams have three participants: change agents, change neutrals, and change resistors. The key to leading change is empowering the change agents, influencing the change equivocators, and helping the change resistors understand the WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Here are the critical steps to leading change.
First, identify who fits into these categories because your strategy for communicating and implementing change will vary by group.
Second, begin with the change agents. With this group, clearly identify the purpose, goals, milestones and timelines, your expectations for them and to create excitement for how this change will benefit the team, the company, the customers and the employees. These change agents will inspire enthusiasm for the changes while providing a counter-balance to the naysayers and the equivocators.
Third meet with the change resistors. This meeting is a leader’s opportunity to use all of the influence they can muster. What is paramount with this group involves the keen listening and clear, honest communication skills of the leader. A template for this conversation is as follows:
1. Clearly explain the change – when, what, how, and most importantly, why. Then why should clearly outline how the company, the employees, the customer, and they as individuals will benefit from this change.
2. Allow this group, with impunity, to blow holes through the who, what, when, how, and why. They need to know this is the place to have this conversation, while they can still influence the who, what, when, how, and why, not in the break room or hallway, because that changes the conversation from productive to destructive, and that is unacceptable.
3. Listen carefully to this group. You will often hear real change enhancements, improvements, and discoveries are uncovered that result in a better change. The side benefit of this is some of these change resistors now feel part of the project and solution and become change advocates for a change adding to the counter-balance to the remaining change resistors and equivocators.
Fourth, meet with the change equivocators. Include at least one change agent, and one converted change resistor join you to tell the who, what, when, how, and why. In most cases, the change neutrals fall into support quickly once they fully understand the principal reason for the change.
Fifth, meet with the group together if possible. This meeting is to restate the change, the reasons for change while setting expectations around timelines, milestones, quality, commitment, and execution. This meeting is not a time for a passive voice, “We should do this because…” Or “We will try to hit this milestone by…” This conversation requires an active voice, “we will…” “We must…” “Our timeline is not negotiable…” Also, this is when consequences are broadly identified; what will happen to members of the team if we don’t implement change or they fail to fulfill their requirements in the timeline. I’m not saying timelines and milestones are not flexible, but they need to be argued when the goals are set, not when they’ve been missed.
Sixth, consistent and continual monitoring of the progress, measuring results, observing attitudes and behaviors, and having ongoing coaching sessions, real-time as the team goes about their assigned tasks. Fulfilling the purpose and the reason for the change must be carefully monitored and reinforced.
Seventh is to celebrate the successful implementation of change.
Eighth is to hold a post-mortem with the team. The post-mortem serves two purposes. One, to understand and learn from what went well and what could have gone better and two, as a platform to launch the next change initiative because we know, change is the status quo.