Avoiding Disaster During Change
More Success with Less Stress
Change is inevitable and everywhere. Experts tell us that 85% of all products
and services we are now using will be obsolete in 5 years. 10 years after
their graduation, 80% of college students are working in something totally
unrelated to their college degree. With these staggering figures it is obvious
that we are more controlled by change than us controlling it. One of the top
requests I receive when organizations call about presentation topics relates
to dealing with Change/Transition from a Leadership or Teamwork perspective.
Everyone seems to be looking for a way to not only make the changes
successful, but make them less stressful. So how do you avoid a "train wreck,"
as one national leader asked me? What do you do to make the inevitable changes
your organization must go through to grow and stay ahead of the competition?
Are there common steps to make change productive and even invigorating? Here
are 8 ways (and a bonus) to avoid disaster during change.
1. Recruit with scrupulous honesty. Get people on your side by telling
the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Don't hold anything
back. Cast your vision leaving no stone unturned. Find people who will stand
with you so that when the chips are down no one who is on your side will be
able to say you misled them. Be careful who you talk to. Find the hardest
people to convince first. This way they are in on the decision and the
information. This makes recruiting the easiest followers even simpler (saves
the best job for last). While recruiting tell you vision. Reveal the pitfalls
you anticipate. Express what is on your heart. Leave yourself open. By being
honest it will encourage your recruits to be open and honest with you. You
will need their support when the going gets rough.
2. Build support among like-minded people. Who can you trust? Seek out
people who are discontented with the status quo in the same way or for the
same reasons you are. Wander among your people and ask questions that bring
out the discontent they are suffering. "Are you satisfied with the programs we
are doing?", "Are we getting the results you feel we could if we put forth our
best effort?", "How would you change things if you had the opportunity?" Take
notes and find those who agree with you. Then talk about the vision you have
and the bright future everyone will enjoy together. Include their comments and
suggestions where you can to build support.
3. Whenever possible, make only one change at a time. People can only
take so much change. After several moves even the most supportive individual
needs to stop and take a breath. Making one change at a time allows the new
habits to sink in and adjustments to be made. It also allow for preparation
for the next change. In my Adapting to Change presentations I use an exercise
where we have participants pair off and make several successive changes. Some
complain on the first round. Over half complain on the second round. No one
will even attempt the third round - which I immediately use to make my first
point. Too much change makes everyone grumpy. Remember the personality styles
of your staff and that not everyone reacts favorable to change. Some need time
to prepare or get over the experience. Make transitions gradual and more
people will follow you.
4. Keep the basic issues clear. Remember why the changes are being made
in the first place. During every transition period there is a time of
confusion. Other issues are brought up that may not even relate to the goal
you have set for the organization. Objections will be made and your followers
will wonder, "Why are we doing this in the first place?" This is the time to
constantly re-cast the vision and keep it in front of your people. There is
disturbance and people will try to get away with whatever they can to take
advantage of the tumult created by the transition. Keep everyone focused on
the goal. Talk about the basic issues and the original discontent that your
strongest followers expressed when the process began.
5. Know the territory. Never lead without knowing where you are going.
Always keep your own personal "road map" in front of you. When uncertainty
arises, it will benefit your people that you expected it and can still lead
them through the wilderness. Moses knew there was a desert between Egypt and
the Promised Land. Columbus knew the ocean was big when he set out for the New
World. Patton studies Rommel's tactics before going into battle with him. All
three knew the territory they were going to pass through at the outset of
their journeys. Wise leaders can anticipate the next three moves and know
where the river is shallowest to cross.
6. Seek to make changes by addition. Everyone equates change with loss.
We think first about what we are going to lose. Remember Windows 3.1? When
Windows 95 came on the market it didn't fare well in sales because no one
wanted to lose their "windows." They didn't want to lose the File Menu (now
known as the "Explore" menu when you Right-Click the "Start" button. they had
gotten used to Microsoft learned they had to sell the advantages and the
benefits in the new programming. People are more prone to accept change when
you sell the benefits to them. It helps them focus on "gain" rather than
"loss." Think about basic changes you have been forced to make. If you didn't
initiate the changes you thought first about what you would miss. Your people
7. Avoid "future shock". Don't change things so quickly that everyone
is stunned into inactivity, revolt or shock. Remember as you make one change
at a time, do so gradually. Allow time for adjustment but don't move so far
into the new transition that no one is with you. John Maxwell, Leadership Pro,
says, "A leader who gets too far ahead of his/her followers becomes a target."
History bears this out. One night in 1863 at the battle of Chancellorsville,
Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson went out with a small patrol to
reconnoiter the battle field. On his return a Confederate sentry thought he
was the enemy and shot him. He died of his wound a few days later.
8. Change is most effective when those most affected are
involved in the planning. Learners learn best when they are involved in the
learning process. People are most motivated when they are involved in the
change process. Involve as many in the planning and execution of your changes.
Allow everyone to buy in and have ownership from the very beginning as you
cast vision. Let it be their vision. Remember how you looked for discontent?
How you enlisted with scrupulous honesty? This is where is pays off in your
people�s involvement in the dream and the transition process. Celebrate
victories and make the celebrations worthwhile. Reward those who have put
forth the most effort (particularly, the ones "behind the scenes").
Bonus: Use the Four Levels of Change as your guide.
Unfortunately most organizations start by changing the organization, forcing
new behaviors, trying to change negative attitudes, and finally, educating as
a last resort. For success with less stress, try this formula:
• Knowledge - Begin by educating everyone as to what the change is
about and what the results/benefits will be. Why do we need to change? What do
your people need to know?
• Attitude - Encourage a culture of change and anticipation. Get your
motivators working for you.
• Behavior - Next behavior will change as positive attitudes influence
the organization's culture.
• Organization - Finally you will see organizational change take place
as behaviors become habits and the team is marching along to a new beat.
When change comes, it doesn't have to be a disaster, or a "train wreck." It
can be the most invigorating process your organization goes through if you
cast a bold vision, carefully plan your steps, execute with determination and
take it one step as a time.
JIM MATHIS is an International Speaking Professional and Trainer. To
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