Implementing change within work groups is an essential task to successfully delivering improvement. In the first part of this blog series, we spoke about the critical role of leaders, and their attitudes and behaviours, to influencing change. Here we look at the next step…interacting with and engaging people, based on the themes that keep appearing in our real-world applications with different work teams and business cultures.

Start with your team leader group

Beyond the leadership perspective we discussed in part one of this series, the success of implementation and the sustainability of results are hugely influenced by the team leaders who manage and coach the people directly impacted by a change. Our plans always include as much time as possible interacting with these critical team leaders – helping them to understand the personal effects of a change, and then building capability in leading and influencing that change. It takes time – sometimes a lot of it – but cannot be compromised.

Focus on supporters more than resistors

Succeeding is all about building advocacy and momentum for change. For this, it’s critical to identify natural informal leaders within teams (regardless of where they sit in an org chart) and invest time and effort engaging with them. If they give their support early on, late adopters within the team will typically follow. It’s a common trap for leaders to spend too much time and effort dealing with the few high-profile resistors to change – rewarding them with attention for being resistant. That time is better spent with those willing and keen to provide support. Resistors do need to be engaged and managed, but a different approach is needed for the benefit of the team and business – particularly if they are unwilling to adapt to the change.

Face, don’t avoid, difficult conversations

Change requires having tough and even uncomfortable conversations and making difficult decisions. There’s no way around them. Those leading change have to overcome internal barriers to these conversations because avoiding them, or doing the job poorly via easier one-way information sharing, rather than two-way interaction, doesn’t do anyone any favours. Even after years of experience, these difficult conversations can still be challenging. Some proven tips:

  • Use behaviours and language that convey collaboration, not aggression
  • Be clear in your communication when something is data-based, versus your opinion
  • Remember the discussion is not about you – it’s about the person you’re engaging
  • Be willing to say you don’t know or don’t have certain information – you don’t need all the answers at once
  • Be respectful to the people you are talking with – we have never yet seen an “I’m right, you’re wrong” approach convince someone to change

Avoid aiming for the perfect ‘win’

Change management theory will tell you that you need to create a win-win situation for everyone. We have seen projects stall as teams search for the elusive ‘everybody wins’ outcome. The reality is that even a widely consulted and well-designed improvement can sometimes create losers – real or perceived. What’s essential is how those who stand to ‘lose’ are communicated with and treated. Being upfront with information can be critical to momentum. If you leave a gap in information flow with those who are ‘losing’, it can quickly develop into an uncontrolled situation and influencing the wider group becomes much harder.

The ‘what’s in it for me’ concept can be a useful tactic in these situations. We recommend communicating the value of a change at both personal and business levels. A change might be seen as negative on a personal level in the short term, but business benefits might translate into a personal positive in the longer term, such as gaining new skills, improving career prospects or having greater business certainty. In general, if a change can’t avoid creating losers, have those discussions properly and early, no matter how difficult, and do so with respect and empathy.

In part three, we’ll talk about the importance of planning effectively for change.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash