I have recently made a big decision to relocate with my two sons from a rural hamlet in the Yorkshire Dales to the city of York. Having lived in 32 different places during my life you may think this is no big deal but because of our family history and the emotional investment in this place, it feels like it is. I have felt for some time that as the boys get older they need to experience the things that living in a livelier place will bring.
Initially quite ambivalent about the move we have suddenly all bought into the idea and are getting excited about the prospect, even though we don’t know where we will be living, what school Ben will go to, what Jack will do with his life etc. I started thinking about how this fits with what I know about getting people to buy in to change both personally and professionally and how we have made this shift as a family.
Me – I began by finding out about opportunities for the boys that I knew would appeal to them, after all, I believed that was my main motivation for moving. It helped me to start painting a vision of what it would be like living there and the benefits it would bring each of them. I talked to people who knew York and they all seemed to love it. I began considering all the things I could access, such as classes, groups and cultural events that are difficult to attend where I live. Finally I spent last weekend there on my own, soaking up the atmosphere, and getting a feel for the place. That convinced me what a great opportunity this was for me as well as for the boys.
Jack (16) didn’t want to move at first because he would lose his friends. The reality is, in order to get a job, or go to college his friends like most people here are likely to move away and not come back, as there are so few opportunities for employment or housing.. What sold the move to Jack was that a) he can make friends there and they are likely to stay around. b) the night life is good and c) when he is ready he will be able to live independently from us whilst still having us there when needed.
Ben (12) loves living rurally and feels he is the one with the most to lose. Though understandably nervous, he is now excited about moving to a bigger school and the additional facilities and sports clubs this brings. Another major plus factor for Ben, unlike Jack, is that he has realised he can attend university or college or find a job all whilst still living at home with me for as long as he likes. (At the moment he estimates that to be around the next 30 years :-))
So three people with different perceived losses, different concerns, different priorities and different benefits all making the journey through change and becoming engaged in the process. How do you help others through change?
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I was coaching a great client of mine yesterday. He has a master plan for his life which includes taking early retirement next year. Suddenly his work situation has changed and he is facing a year of potential misery. This has left him with a dilemma. Does he stick with what he knows, even though it’s painful? (His comfort zone) Or does he make changes which are scary and perhaps risky? (His stretch zone)
Choosing to make changes can be scary for all kinds of reasons. My client may be afraid to apply for a new job in case he doesn’t get it. But he hasn’t got it now so what is there to be scared of? Perhaps it’s about losing credibility or feeling embarrassed because not landing another job might reflect badly on his abilities. It’s really easy to confuse failing to achieve something with being seen as a failure as a person. It might be that he would feel disloyal to his current team if he makes the changes or that they will judge him as disloyal for wanting to leave. Or it could be that he is so emotionally and psychologically drained by the situation that he hasn’t the energy to get himself unstuck.
He will only be able to make the change when he believes the positives of changing are greater than the positives of staying the same. So taking the time to look at what is driving the change and what is blocking the change is a good first step. When the two seem to balance each other out we are left feeling ambivalent and therefore stuck. However, most people overestimate the risks of change and underestimate the risks of staying in their comfort zone. So, the next step is to challenge our assumptions around our list of drivers and blockers. This might be the time to enlist the help of a friend or trusted advisor to help with challenging those assumptions.
To sum up,
When there is a gap between where you are now and where you want to be and you can acknowledge the discomfort that this creates.
When you can list the emotional and rational drivers and blockers of the change and challenge your assumptions
When you reach the point where you see that the positives of making the change outweigh the positives of staying with the current situation
Then you are ready and willing to take the action that will move you forward, help you grow your comfort zone and build your ability to deal with future changes positively.
- How do you make the decision to make difficult changes?
- What helps you to “feel the fear and do it anyway?”
In virtually every company I talk to, who are implementing changes, they recognise that no matter how robust their new processes and systems are they need their people to buy in to the new way of working in order for them to take responsibility for its success. And yet, they don’t really know how to go about that. Their external consultants are more likely to be technical and process experts rather than experts in human behaviour and culture change so not ideally placed to help on this.
A while ago I worked with a blue chip manufacturing company who were well down the road to implementing a “lean” operating system when they realised that people weren’t really getting behind it. In fact, a small but influential minority were actively undermining it. We worked together to help people move from feeling that the changes were being imposed from on high by people who didn’t understand their particular demands and constraints, to workers at all levels from plant manager to production line staff feeling they owned the process and were responsible for making it a success. Instead of spending time and energy moaning about what wouldn’t work, they focused on how to make it work and in the best way possible.
So tell me,
- How well are your people engaging with new initiatives?
- Is it more challenging to get their buy in now than it used to be?
- What works and what doesn’t work when introducing change?
If you are managing a geographically dispersed team, you will be aware that distance brings its own complexities. In your attempt to get your people doing what you would like them to do, the tendency can be to try and micro-manage them rather than step back and lead them more effectively.
I recently interviewed Mark Fritz, an international leadership speaker who focuses on helping business leaders across the world to achieve even greater success in leading across distances & cultures.
During the interview Mark explained the unique challenges of leading across distances and why distance is the acid test for leadership. He pointed out that you can’t manage your way, or fire fight your way to leading an organisation. You can’t see what your people are doing all the time. You can’t correct them very quickly. You can’t have your people waiting for you to tell them what to do next. If you try to manage them you are slowing them, and your organisation, down to the speed of your own capacity rather than operating to the multiplication of other people’s capacity.
Mark knows that the key to managing across distances is to build ownership in your team members, for what they are doing. To hear more about the power of ownership and how to transfer ownership from you as the leader to your team members, listen to the 45 minute interview here and learn from the expert.
Mark will be “in the house” to answer your questions on how to lead your team, whether a virtual team working from their own homes or agents spread throughout the world. Do take this opportunity to put your questions and comments directly to Mark here on the blog.
- What question do you have for Mark?
- What works well for you? (either as a leader or a team member)
- What would you like to be different?
How do you react when you hear the word change?
Optimism? Fear? Anger? Excitement? Nervousness? Overwhelm? Relief? Dread? Concern?
Whether our responses are seen as positive or negative depends on the actions that an organisation and its leaders take and the very personal way that we as individuals view a change. (E.g. a threat that will take something away or as an opportunity that will bring something better)
Now you may be thinking “Why should we as leaders be concerned with how people respond to change? It’s part of their job. We don’t have time to molly coddle people!”
Well, purely in business terms you should care about shortening the inevitable drop in productivity that comes with major changes and you do this by learning about the human response to change and how leaders can help people move through it and become fully productive more quickly. The other reason is that although people have a free choice in responding negatively or positively to change, if they stay in the negative frame of mind it is likely to have consequences for health, well-being and morale, all of which impacts business performance.
So what is the first, and in my view the most important, step in supporting a healthy and effective response to change?
Creating a felt need
This is what John Kotter refers to as creating a “burning platform for change.” Leaders tend not to spend enough time making the case for why a change is needed. If people affected by the coming change don’t know the reasons behind it they will be less likely to move out of their comfort zone and will respond either by turning a blind eye, telling themselves “this too will pass” or may blame management for bringing in yet another “unnecessary” change and actively resist it.
When leaders are clear about the internal and external drivers for the change, and the consequences of not changing and amplify these drivers, it helps to create the felt need for change.
Whilst communicating the drivers for change, over and over in different formats, it’s also vital to involve people. Hear their responses, ask for their ideas and suggestions, listen to their perceived losses and explore how these can be addressed.
Much of our individual response to change is a function of how much control or influence we feel we have. Imagine sitting next to the driver of a car, holding the map, making collaborative decisions about the journey, compared with being locked in the boot, gagged and bound. Our level of control or influence over the change plays an important part in how we view it.
I would love to hear your experiences of organisational change.
- What worked well for you?
- What did you learn?
When we are looking at change…whether personal change or organisational change, many of us take a deficit approach. We focus on what isn’t working, what is going wrong, what we need to make it better.
Yet taking our weaknesses and making them into strengths is the hardest gap to bridge. It’s hard to build the necessary skills in things that don’t come naturally to us. It’s also challenging to stay motivated, committed and engaged. How many of us feel excited about doing more of something we aren’t good at?
So whether you are thinking about your New Year’s Resolution or changes you are making in your professional work or business, why not try a different approach?
Rather than focusing on what’s wrong, identify where things are working really well and then look for ways to leverage it so it happens more often.
I was working with a team recently, who initially had great difficulty finding examples of when they worked well together. Eventually with lots of probing questions they identified a demanding project with a tight timescale where they had pulled out all the stops, worked really well, communicated effectively and supported each other to meet the deadline. Once we had that, we could identify all the elements involved and agree how they could replicate that in other areas of their work together. Remembering and visualising how it felt to be working hard, but effectively as a team, and the sense of accomplishment they felt also re-enforced their desire to create that environment more frequently.
Next time you are considering changes and setting goals how about considering:
- When are you at your best?
- When you are at your best how do you know? What do others see?
- When have you been at your best, even for a moment?
- How you can use that experience now?
Happy learning and Happy New Year