How leaders and communicators can win hearts and minds in change management.
Asking a group of people to change the way they’ve been doing something for years often triggers highly charged emotional responses, and they are rarely positive. Yet when tackling change management, so many organisations seem to ignore this. Instead they rely heavily on filling out logical but complex change templates and ordering people to do things differently.
Administrative processes and direct instructions have their place in change management, for example when health and safety compliance is needed. However, no amount of form-filling by leaders is going to inspire people to let go of their old ways of working and adopt new ones.
In fact, telling people to change just causes them to take a stand and doggedly cling to the status quo. When Kennedy said: “We’ll put a man on the moon by the end of the decade”, he inspired an entire nation as well as NASA. He didn’t then whip out a Gantt chart to prove his thinking!
Change from within
However inspiring the carefully crafted vision for the future, nothing will actually change if people aren’t convinced that they need to move on from what they’re currently doing.
Sure, they might nod and smile when you talk about the desired change; they’re not politically naive or stupid. But the minute you walk down the corridor, they’ll crack on doing exactly what they’ve always done. As the American author Irene Peter wryly noted: “Just because everything is different, doesn’t mean anything has changed.”
In my experience, what really works is creating an environment where people identify for themselves that the way they are currently doing things is no longer the way forward. Better still, they start persuading each other and, even better still, they start telling their leaders.
So, your job as leader or communication professional is to paint the picture of success, then let people join the dots for themselves. That’s the way to win hearts as well as minds.
Creating ‘change from within’ takes thought and effort, especially compared to ordering people to change ‘because HQ want us to’. But the foundations you’ll create will result in far greater ownership and advocacy of the change. This way, you will build a more solid structure to support sustained change. Find practical examples of how to make this happen, in the early chapters of John Kotter’s The Heart of Change.
Beyond ‘lessons learnt’
Now you’ve got your people fired up and passionate about delivering the change, perhaps even co-creating ways to deliver it. But, the gravitational pull of templates and form-filling at the other end of the project can still tarnish your efforts. Enter the ‘lessons learnt’ or ‘post implementation review”. Unfortunately, once completed, this is often consigned to the darker recesses of a SharePoint site never to be discussed or seen again. And the result? Little actually gets learnt.
While of course complying with the agreed and audited internal process, why not make heroes and heroines of your new-found champions for change in a very public space? Get them sharing their success stories on your intranet, acknowledging the challenges they’ve overcome in your internal publications, showcasing the difference they’ve made at your events and inspiring their fellow workers to new heights in their corridor conversations. All you are doing is bringing your lessons learnt to life.
And why wait until the end of the project? You can add real momentum to your change effort by celebrating success early and often.
Now that’s the kind of template I vote you do adopt.