Beat the Big Bad Hairy Change Monster
A while ago my oldest son was in for a surprise. Being the all grown seven-year-old he is, it was time for him to start contributing to the household. At least, that is what we, his parents, decided. So, we picked some easy chores, created a schedule for the week and presented it to him. He was thrilled! Finally, he was given the opportunity to help out and become a contributing member of our family. Not.
In fact, the next days were quite frustrating. Every time he was reminded of a chore he tried to dodge it, or, when that failed, got angry. I wondered, why is it I have little success in convincing my son to do something new but professionally seem to manage to change things most of the times. I mean, apart from the fact that young children have a tendency to be irrational little creatures, what is it I do differently at work and at home?
A week later, when it was time to start a new schedule, we took a different approach. We all sat at the dinner table and talked to him about why we wanted him to contribute. And, more important, we listened to his gripes and objections. As it turned out, he was willing to contribute, just not the chores we picked out for him. So, we discussed what he liked to do. Together we created a new schedule. To be honest, we weren’t totally sure of all the chores he picked; is he up for it? But we gave him the benefit of the doubt. At least, this time he was much more engaged.
Before you get the wrong impression, this isn’t parenting advice. I’m no parenting expert. It is an example of how a different approach to starting change can help reduce resistance and make it happen. Rather than impose change; enable it. The following three habits will help you with this.
Listening is one of the most valuable leadership skills one can develop. A tremendously powerful one that is often overlooked. The art of listening is hard to master and few have, but try it. Making an effort to listen already goes a long way.
Everyone who resists change does so for a reason. They have fears, doubts, and worries. Whether these seem rational to you is irrelevant. As long as they are to the other. People may sense danger. They may not see any benefit. Avoid the tendency to label these people as conservatives, complainers or saboteurs. Instead, figure out what is holding them back.
Take these people aside and let them talk. Don’t try to convince them. Before you bombard them with information, sharing your plans and selling them your ideas, listen. Ask them how they feel about the change you are trying to implement. Make sure you refrain from talking. Ask questions, make it your priority to fully understand the person in front of you. Don’t settle for a quick shallow answer. Dive deeper, until you truly grasp their concerns.
It is interesting to see what happens when you open up and listen to somebody. The basic fact that someone is taking them seriously already helps a lot in reducing people’s resistance. Paying attention to someone’s concerns builds trust.
Cut out plans describing a vision, future situations, and a roadmap towards it can be scary. Especially for those people not involved in creating them, but who will be affected. These plans imply that a proposed change is set in stone. Yet, many times, they aren’t executed as they were planned. Avoid presenting them as if they will. Don’t make the mistake to think you know exactly what will happen and how it will look like.
Instead, present your plan for change as a series of experiments. Analyze your change ideas and look for assumptions and expectations. Create small experiments to test every single one of them. Make sure you evaluate the experiments with the people who were part of it. And don’t be afraid to call an experiment an educational failure. Adjust your plans and future experiments based on the lessons learned.
By running experiments, you give people the change to experience what the change will look and feel like. They will slowly get a feel for what you are working towards. On top, you will also give them confidence you are actually looking for the best solution.
Now you are listening and experimenting already why don’t you let the persons most affected in our your plans? Collaborate with them and provide them with ownership. Work with them instead of against them. See them as allies instead of enemies.
Don’t go figure out all the experiments yourself, talk to the people involved. Share the problem you want to solve, the vision you have and the direction you want to take. Ask them for feedback on it and work with them to create a plan. Give them an opportunity to influence the direction.
Very few people are against change, but hardly anyone wants to be changed. By collaborating nobody is changed. Everybody is part of shaping change themselves, in a way that works best for them.
Next time you plan to lead change, rather than imposing it, try enabling it. Turn the change in a collective series of improvement experiments. If you did, let us know how it worked out for you.