How to Get Your Team to Embrace Change

The events of the past two years have brought about much change. Change in the way that we do business, the way we work with internal and external stakeholders, the way we communicate with our staff and our clients, the processes we have in place and the way many industries must comply with their regulatory bodies. So how do you get your team to embrace change, particularly those changes that are necessary to ensure an organisation maintains compliance? 

Some people can be averse to change and can react to change with resistance, sometimes refusing to cooperate, making the role of a manager extremely challenging. So how can we handle personnel that are resistant to change, especially when it’s compulsory change? Let’s consider some options.

DON’T NEGLECT THE WEAK SIGNAL

In today’s workplace few people give each other honest feedback, so it’s important to keep an ear to the ground for “weak signals” you may receive in unexpected moments or, frankly, from others who are brusque enough to confront you.

If you are sensing any discontent from any of your team, one of the most disarming and useful things you can do is to arrange a meeting with them. Ask them for their feedback and how they would go about implementing the required changes. When they are finished, don’t agree, don’t disagree, just commit to give some thought to their input and respond later about what you want to work on.

IT’S BETTER TO REMOVE RESISTANCE THAN TO ADD FORCE

The legendary sociologist Kurt Lewin described the natural human tendency to fight resistance with more resistance. If someone pushes, we reflexively push back. If someone raises their voice, we rise to meet them. If someone tells us we’re wrong, we point out how we’re right.

Lewin suggested that this is like driving with one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator. If you’re encountering resistance to change, the first step is to try to understand it, not oppose it. And the best way to understand it is to…

CONNECT WITH OPINION LEADERS

Everett Rogers did one of the most important studies ever of the social physics of change. And one thing he found is you can accelerate change by involving opinion leaders.

Few people adopt new behaviors because they “make sense.” Most only change after they see those they respect change first. We use opinion leaders in our lives as curators of truth. Rather than trust our own analysis of hard data, we look to those we think are wise. If they do it, we’ll do it.

As a would-be change leader, you’d be wise to identify the people who are most respected in your organisation and invite them to have a candid conversation with you. Let them know you’ll share the reasoning behind the proposed changes, but ask them as well to come prepared to give unflinching feedback about why they won’t work.

At the end of the day, change won’t flow until these people are on board. So spend whatever time it takes to earn their trust and address their concerns, and then solicit their help. Have them be part of key presentations, involve them in experiences that will allow them to feel the problem you’re trying to solve, and involve them in experiences using the new changes so they can personally attest to others that they work.

ABILITY ISSUES ARE OFTEN DRESSED UP AS MOTIVATION PROBLEMS

Finally, don’t fall into the “fundamental attribution error” trap. Often when others disagree with us, we attribute their disagreement to malevolent intentions. We think they are lazy, stupid, selfish or dishonest. If you’ve been feeling angry or irritated about the opposition you’re seeing, it’s likely you’re nursing a story like this about your colleagues. Long experience has shown me that what often looks like a motivation problem is often an ability issue. People oppose leaders because they feel uncomfortable, incompetent, uninformed or unprepared. What they need is information, education, and tutoring, not another motivational speech.

There’s a story about a hospital that was struggling to get doctors to use a new electronic medical records system that could potentially change lives. Frustrated leaders were ready to compel the doctors to get on board. They considered threatening them with loss of privileges, shaming them in front of colleagues, and other coercive methods. As things escalated, a wise leader sat down with a few doctors who were opinion leaders and asked for feedback. She discovered it wasn’t so much that doctors disagreed with the need for the new system, but that they struggled with scheduling, felt unprepared to use it, and didn’t understand the tip sheets they had been given.

It wasn’t a motivation problem, it was an ability problem. She then held a special mentoring session for the opinion leaders at a time convenient to them.

On the day the software went live, she asked the opinion leaders to wear purple t-shirts that indicated they could help any doctor with their first experience. And she arranged coverage for other doctors so they could attend training themselves. In short, she addressed the ability problems. Within two weeks, 95% of the doctors were ready to roll.

Leading a team often throws up challenges, but with the right tools, a methodical approach and good communication, we are in a better position to manage these.

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