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.
Start with the change agents; they will champion the changes while inspiring excitement with the others. They provide an essential 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 essential to this group involves 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.” The “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 W, W, W, H, and W. They need to know this is the place to have this conversation. The change resistors will learn they can still influence conversations and be less inclined to have these conversations in the break room or hallway. As leaders, we know the “hallway conversations become unproductive to destructive.
3. Listen carefully to this group. You will often hear enhancements, improvements, and discoveries are revealed; the result is an improved change process. The side benefit of this is some of these change resistors now feel part of the project and solution and become change advocates for the change adding to the counter-balance to the remaining change resistors and equivocators.
Fourth, meet with the change equivocators. In most cases, the change neutrals fall into support quickly once they fully understand the reasons for the change.
Fifth, meet with the group together. This meeting is to restate the change, “the who, what, when, how, and why,” and to set the expectations, timelines, milestones, and quality expectations. Meeting with this group is not a time for a passive voice, “We should do this because…” Or “We will try to hit this milestone by…” This meeting requires an active voice, “we will…” “We must…” “Our timeline is not negotiable…” Also, this is when performance consequences are 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 schedules 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.