The best statement I’ve ever heard came to me at a critical moment in my development. Last week, surrounded by 1,200 women in the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Cy Wakeman spoke to me. She said, “Change is NOT hard. Change is only hard for the unready.” Then she challenged each of us in the crowd to help our people get ready for the changes that are inevitable.
It was perfect timing. GreatAmerica is going through some massive changes right now. We’ve changed or upgraded several technology platforms, we are adapting to new products and services our customers are selling, and coming to grips with how buying habits have changed. It was only a handful of days before Cy’s speech that two GreatAmerica leaders who I admire held a session on how to prepare ourselves and our teams to thrive in change.
The Roller Coaster of Change in Every Company
One of those leaders, Kimberly Poston, explained how change can feel like a roller coaster. Now, I’m not sure how you feel about roller coasters, but I really am not a fan. On the flip side, I LOVE change. So, when Kimberly started sharing this example, it gave me a glimpse of what change must feel like to my friends who are more resistant to it.
So every good roller coaster ride starts with a line. While you are standing in that line, you may be feeling a sense of anticipation. If you’ve never been on the ride before, you might be wondering what it will feel like, if it will be scary and how exciting it will be. Or, if you are like me, you are wondering if your last will and testament is up to date.
Once you are seated and buckled in, you can see what is in front of you. The ride begins to move, and there is no turning back. Soon, you are on an excruciatingly slow climb to the first big drop. In many scenarios, this is when the change at hand is being introduced in a meaningful way to the team. Perhaps if it is a technology solution they are getting some demos and providing feedback on what might be missing. Things are constantly being tweaked, but there is still a lot of unknown. During this period, the feelings your team had at the beginning are exacerbated. They are either feeling more anticipation, or more dread.
If you are a roller coaster junkie, the next part will probably be your favorite. The first downhill drop. You’ve got your arms up in the air and screaming in excitement. Or, you are like this kid Kimberly found on the internet who is wondering if he’s about to meet Jesus.
This drop represents a lack of control for your change-resistant friends. On the flip side, those who are embracing the change at this point are going to be your advocates, cheerleaders and mentors. They can help everyone see the opportunity and how to incorporate it into their everyday.
As the ride slows and points back towards the end, you are gathering your thoughts. By the time you are walking away, you’re discussing with your friends. What was the best part? How did this ride compare to others you’d been on? What did I not like? I wish I knew…
In a change management scenario, this is the time to observe your people. Understand how they learn, and what answers you didn’t give them ahead of time. How could they have been more prepared for the changes you implemented?
9 Steps to Implementing Change
If change is only hard for the unprepared, it is our job as leaders to prepare our team members, right? I’m sure reflecting back on change that has happened in your life or your business, you thought you had your bases covered, but it still didn’t go as well as expected. This materialized for me with pregnancy and parenthood. You would think that 9 months would be enough time to prepare you and your partner, but it is impossible to comprehend all the ways your life changes when you bring home a baby. I digress…
The course taught by Kimberly and Sally Brause had actionable steps, and things you can check off along the way to guide you through the milestones of change.
Step 1: Plenty of Advanced Notice
Surprises aren’t always welcome, and when it comes to change, springing it on your team can be downright dangerous. Give your team as much advanced notice as possible to the change coming. Even if it is just saying that a team of people is looking into something. You might not have anything material to share on what is happening, how it will impact their day-to-day or when you expect it to happen. Still, being open and transparent with your team that change is coming will get you off on the right foot.
Step 2: Ensure High Levels of Trust
We all know how important trust is, and more importantly that it takes time to build and earn trust. Ensuring trust can be as simple as providing compelling reasons this is best for them, and be honest with what you expect the outcomes to be, or even that you aren’t sure what ramifications are quite yet, but that you plan to use the team to explore all of them.
Step 3: Set Realistic Expectations
Although we’d like to think that we are omnipotent, predicting the future is risky business. Setting the expectation with your team that things will not be perfect before, during or after the change can set the tone for acceptance. There is a fine balance between waiting until everything is perfect to implement change, and charging forward without critical elements in place. Set the expectation with your team that in the real world, you can’t wait forever for the conditions to be right. There will be hard work involved and likely a few bumps along the road.
Step 4: Create Safety Nets
Communicating the change is important; but just as important is communicating what won’t change. Make sure your team members understand that life as they know it will not cease to exist, and they won’t be forced to abandon their hard-earned experiences and skills because of the change they are about to experience.
Step 5: Leverage the Experience of Others
You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last to make this change, or something similar. Find somebody who has also had to implement a new platform, change a process, or update a philosophy. They might be leaders within your organization, or peers in your industry, or just somebody that your friend knows. Ask them what went well and what they would have changed.
Step 6: Make it Personal
Our immediate reaction when we hear about change coming is, “How will this impact me?” They might go straight to how will it make my life better, but they also may consider the ways it will make their life more difficult. When communicating change, ensure you have thought through how your proposed changes will affect your audience and address their real pain points.
Step 7: Involvement
“People support a world they help create.” Dale Carnegie
There is no better way to help our people prepare for change, then by letting them decide how to prepare themselves. Early involvement from key players is critical. Not sure who to ask? Start with the naysayers. The people who you know will be tough sells can be your best advocates. After all, they are really interested in making the solution right. If you can involve the naysayers early and turn them into champions, they can help do the convincing on the next naysayer.
Step 8: Celebrate Successes
Find large and small successes to celebrate with the team along the way. Even incremental wins can help motivate the team and keep their spirits up during what may be a difficult transition.
Step 9: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Throughout whatever change you are implementing, having a thorough communication plan can make or break your adoption. We learned two keys for successful communication during the session. The first was to make communication a two-way street. Don’t just tell the team what is happening, but give them an opportunity to provide feedback, ask questions and voice their concerns. (Tip: If you use naysayers as champions, you may avoid mutiny when the time comes for larger communication plans.) The second piece of advice was to use multiple methods of communication. Don’t rely on lengthy emails to share updates. Try roadshows, videos, use cases, success stories and small group huddles.
Plan Your Ride to Effectively Implement Organizational Change
These 9 steps will help you implement effective change in your organization. By setting the course for your roller coaster, you have much more control over your team’s experience and the end result. Setting expectations early will help both those that embrace change, as well as those who more set in their ways. With foresight and preparation, change doesn’t have to be hard, just as Cy Wakeman suggested.
The next time your company is changing a process, switching software, or restructuring a department, I hope you’ll use these 9 steps to help ease the change. Although we know it’s impossible to anticipate everything, you can smooth the road ahead and remove potential roadblocks before you ever reach them.
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