Three “No Fail” Techniques to Lead Change

Except for being eaten feet first by a bear, what’s worse than having to change? Leading the change! Want to make enemies? Instigate change! You’ll be Crockett at the Alamo hearing Spanish! (Don’t know Texas history?  It didn’t end well.) But if you step wisely, you can lead change without one single tomahawk landing in your neck.

Here are three, proven techniques to help you lead change PLUS a bonus idea.  Use them to gain cooperation during even the toughest adjustments.  Ready?

Whenever you need to a change made, make sure your people know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. Saying, “We need to increase sales” or “Next quarter, costs have to come down” won’t cut it.  Verbally explain exactly what it will take to make the dart thwack into the center of the bullseye. Get specific.  What exactly should your team do to reach the goal?

It’s better if they hear, “By the end of our fiscal year, we need to increase sales by seven per cent.” Or, “Our goal is to be out of this building in five months.”  Or, “We need to lower our costs by eight per cent by this time next year.”

Be sure your people completely understand the specific change you want made.

Go beyond What to Why. Rather than just specifying your goal, tell them how NOT hitting the goal would affect THEM.  So, instead of saying, “Next year you need to sell 10 percent more to qualify for the same bonus you got this year”–tell your team WHY!

You might say, “Our stockholders expressed concern at our last meeting that we haven’t hit our projections.  They put a lot of pressure on us to hit our predictions and, when we don’t, they fret when the stock price goes down.  We’ve fallen short the last three quarters.  Our fear is that they’ll pressure us to start layoffs.  We don’t want to do that.  Instead, we’d like to raise sales goals by 10%.”  Now your sales team gets the “why.”  They still won’t like it, but at least they understand it.  Finish off with, “We all know that’s a big jump.  We’ve set this meeting to brainstorm how to reach that goal.”

No one likes to change.  No one. Even people who say they like change will react if you ask them to start doing things differently.  (Try it.)

But people will change if they fear they’ll lose something by not changing.  Take safety, for example.  At bedtime, people will delay sleep rather than risk losing their security.    If it were late at night and you were home alone watching TV, would you be more likely to eventually go to bed if it were a quiet or if you suddenly heard a noise outside and men whispering?  Your heart would race and you’d delay sleeping until the perceived threat passed. We don’t want to lose our sense of safety.

Our fear of losing (safety) gets and holds attention faster and longer than the anticipation of something pleasant (sleep). So, don’t just tell people what they’ll gain from changing (the chance to still get a bonus even in hard times.)  Instead, create a greater impact by explaining what they could lose if they do not change (i.e. their jobs!)

One huge way to get buy-in with your “change campaign” is to ask for suggestions.  Ask the employees involved to suggest ways to accomplish the goal set before them. No one likes to be told what to do.  But, people won’t resist acting on their own solutions.  If your team understands what needs to change, why, and what’s at risk if they don’t, then they’re asked to submit ideas on how to implement the change, they’re likely to rally and make the change happen.

For 13 years, American Airlines had a cost-savings programs called IdeAAs in Action where the airline asked employees to suggest ways it could save money.  Every suggestion was either implemented or, if the company decided the suggestion would not result in a worthwhile savings, the employee who suggested it got a reply explaining why.  If the suggestion was adopted, the employee who submitted the idea got a percentage of the savings as a bonus!  Whoop!  And get this – the program netted the airline half a billion dollars in savings! Whoop!  Whoop!

Nonetheless, the program wasn’t considered a success.  Here’s why: The program cost a lot to run.  It required auditors, accountants and layers of managers.  So, after 9/11, when the airline was hurting financially (and emotionally), American discontinued it and came up with a new program called IdeAAs in Flight.  The new program was basically the same as IdeAAs in Action except no bonuses were paid for cost-cutting suggestions.  With no financial incentive to participate, guess what happened?

Nope.  It went BETTER.  The new program doubled the annual benefits the very first year!  Here’s why:  Employees were more motivated by saving the airline (their fear of loss) than their feelings of personal gain (something pleasant.)

Need to make a change? Let your people know what to do, why, what they stand to lose if they don’t, then ask for suggestions on how to do it.  Then watch out!  Things are about to change.

©  2018  Vicki Hitzges  All rights reserved


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