Want to make sure that change happens?

It might be that asking this question may sound like a platitude. Of course! How could I not want my projects of change to be a success?

Well, I’m asking because I very often find managers who say they want to carry out change processes, without really understanding some of the fundamental keys to achieve it.

And so I have my doubts when I hear their intentions.

Many of these managers expect to bring forward change acting like they had been doing beforehand, as if it was only a matter of giving some orders or pressing some magic buttons.

It’s pretty naive to think that it is possible to implement changes without affecting the leader. This is, changing without substantially modifying his own behaviours, beliefs and attitudes, among others. And certainly without bringing under the spotlight his presumptive personal competence in the matter at hand.

Managers who act like this are not aware that in most change processes followers look to the leader to find references on the new required behaviours.

If the leader does not show them, it will be much more difficult for the followers to advance.

And that’s being kind.

Usually they rather think about the inconsistency between what the leader says he wants to achieve, and what he shows by his actions and omissions.

Or in other words, to succeed in a change process the first thing to happen is for you to be ready to prove that what you’re asking your people to do. As they say in English, “leading by example”.

You also need to understand that people in your organization will be unconsciously classified into five categories according to their willingness to embrace that change. Or depending on what order they will want to leave their comfort zone. These categories are:

• Pioneers. They will be the first to embrace change. The people now standing as such can be pioneers for this change and not for others. And the same applies to other categories. It all depends on their passion in the subject and the times they have made similar changes and learnings.

• Early Adopters. Will be those who need some guidance before starting off. And it will be provided by their fellow pioneers. They believe in change, but not with as much conviction as the aforementioned. You need to help them to join the change process as soon as possible to help you get the first quick wins.

• Early Majority. This group not only needs people going ahead, it also needs proof that the change you propose can actually produce some kind of benefit. Once they join the change process, this group, along with the previous ones, will generate enough momentum to make it unstoppable.

• Late majority. The second large group of supporters will take awhile to get under way. Probably more than you’d like, but it is important to give them space and time. And above all to understand that their feedback, usually laded with objections to the process, can greatly help you to refine it.

• Laggards. It is likely that you don’t even have to wait for this group. They may be up to 25% of your organization. But still, and given that you will not get everyone to like the change you propose, you must be willing to have against you a large part of the people who eventually may or may not change. Their role is to guard the stronghold (the structure) you are leaving. And in the stage where only the pioneers are supporting you, their role is important to support the long-standing way. But the moment you have both majorities on board, their role starts to make no sense. Let them decide, or if necessary give them a deadline to join the change process, or invite them to leave.

To be able to manage these groups according to the needs of everyone is critical to trust yourself and your people, whatever their attitude to change. Otherwise, why do you have them in your team? To accept this is to accept their reactions even though you might not share them.

To classify them you can ask them if they are willing to support the change process.

“From 1 to 10, how much do you believe in the change process I’m outlining you?”

Those in the low band are still useful. It will be important to understand why they are feeling that way.

When people do not want to change, it’s not due to a fear of future and the unknown, but a fear of loss that can happen if they change. According to Eric Berne these losses could be symbolic (usually associated with a loss of status), physical (usually having to do with fear of losing their jobs, salary, or any physical privilege, like having a car or office), and finally psychological (basically, to feel consciously incompetent, to know they do not know; actually far from being bad it is the requirement to start learning).

As long as you accept that they have legitimate reasons to “resist”, to feel fear of loss, it will be easier to negotiate with them.

“How I can help you to support change? What do you need?”

Other important aspects to consider when it comes to achieving success in the process of change include:

• Understanding from which one of your personal values you have decided that change is good, and understanding whether they also have these values.

• Discerning from which level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you operate, and from which one they do.

• Acquainting yourself with the powerful beliefs you lean on, finding out if you share them with your people, understanding their limiting beliefs and discovering what kind of evidence will help them change their beliefs.

• Sharing your vision of success, what benefits you will attain, and how they will impact everyone.

To this list of minimum requirements you should add an explanation of how they can individually help the company once they decide to support the change process.

And above all, start gaining supporters in the order described earlier. First, the pioneers, and then, little by little, the others.

If you truly believe in the benefits of change, carry on, and request feedback from your people to help you understand how they see it. Stay strong in your vision while allowing room for errors on the way to fulfilment.

If you are willing to follow these steps, and you do it, it will be that you really wanted change to happen. If not, maybe it was just a nice possibility.

Good luck in your change processes.

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