Lead Change

Change is the biggest constant in today’s business world. Even charities and educational organizations are finding that they need to constantly innovate not only to compete for donation dollars, clients, and members, but to remain relevant to the changing social landscape around them as well.

But people hate change. Right? The management literature is loaded with tales of corporate innovation gone awry – product launches flubbed, reorganizations that caused productivity to plummet and workers to flee en masses, hideously stupid morale programs that mandated chipperness and received resignations in return, and so on. When workers at any organization get together, they swap stories of corporate inanity, laughing at each other’s tales of programs too stupid to have been thought of in the first place, let alone implemented – yet they were.

No, the common wisdom goes, people don’t want change. They want the steady footing of corporate constancy.

A vast number of books have been written about how to resolve this problem: companies need change, but workers hate it. Graduate management programs dedicate countless semester-hours to coping with this conflict. Executives wring their hands over the tension between their needs and employees’ unwillingness.

All for nothing.

As Michael Kanazawa, author of Big Ideas to Big Results points out in the title of his new e-book at ChangeThis, people don’t hate change, they hate how you’re trying to change them.

People LOVE change

People don’t hate change, they love it. Workers constantly seek promotions and new job responsibilities. They buy self-help books and personal development books seeking to become better at their jobs. They launch their own businesses. They change companies and jobs, they even change careers, all for the sake of breaking out of unsatisfying routines and gaining control over the conditions of their own labor.

People love change, they just hate having change rammed down their throats. They hate being sold a bill of goods, and too many corporate innovations feel like a bill of goods to the workers expected to implement them.

Three principles for change people love

Kanazawa got his start as a corporate strategist at the same company where Scott Adams gave birth to Dilbert. I think it’s safe to say that Pacific Telesis was a company that got change wrong. Repeatedly. Much to our general amusement.

Frustrated by the ham-handed – and almost always unsuccessful — way that change was managed there, Kanazawa sought out a different way of approaching change. In People Don’t Hate Change, he lays out the three principles companies need to embrace to create real innovation that their employees will get behind:

Do more on less

Workers fear the latest new program to come across their desk because they’ve learned that change means more work – for them. These fears are confirmed when management invites them into the conference room or meeting hall for the inevitable “pep rally” and gushes about the new program – and then tells them that they must “do more with less”.

It appeals to our core values of thrift and efficiency, this idea of doing more with less. It sells us – a little. But in the end doing more with less is impractical. Employees end up overtaxed by new responsibilities, frustrated by lack of resources, and resentful about all the work they’re doing with no extra compensation.

Instead, Kanazawa suggests that management demonstrate clearly what the new priorities are, and what is no longer a priority. Give workers a clear sense of what they should be focusing on, and get rid of the rest. Outsource it, or better yet cut it entirely.

Doing more on less means doing more work, more thinking, and more activity on less stuff. It means focusing employees’ efforts where they count, instead of splitting their attention twenty different ways.

There’s no such thing as buy-in

Companies know the value of “buy-in” when pushing radical new programs. Buy-in is that sense among workers that they hold a stake in the success of a project, that it’s theirs, somehow – they’ve “bought into” the new program.

Typically, companies will assign a leadership team, outside consultants, or project group in a division to design a new program. Once the plan is finalized, they’ll go to the employees who will be responsible for implementing the new plan for a buy-in meeting. They “sell” the plan, and employees “buy in”.

Except, they don’t. They may think it’s a great idea, they may be enthusiastic about it, but in the end, it’s not their plan.

Kanazawa advocates a different approach to innovation – bring employees in from the start, rely on their practical experience and expertise and incorporate their ideas into the plan. Follow their lead.

When workers are instrumental in creating change in their organization, there is no need for buy-in because the ideas are already theirs.

Leadership is not about you

A year ago, I debuted at Lifehack with a post on leadership, saying that leadership wasn’t about power, it was about empowering others. Kanazawa concurs, writing, “Leadership impact is not about how aggressive, decisive, and visionary you are, it is about how you bring that out in others.”

By empowering those around them to do more, true leaders drastically increase their own leadership power – their power scales with the ability of those around them.

It is important for leaders to have vision, authority, and ambition, but it is more important for them to reach out to others all along the chain of command to make sure that everyone feels involved in the process of change. Leaders who don’t do this, who attempt to impose their vision from the top-down, might manage to achieve something that looks like their vision, but which is hollow and empty.

Make change lovable

I’ve had Kanazawa’s book in my “to read” pile for a while, and I’m anxious to make time to read it. In the meantime, though, People Don’t Hate Change, They Hate How You’re Trying to Change Them gives a good introduction to the approach to change that Kanazawa has developed since leaving Dilbert-land. Keeping Kanazawa’s principles in mind can help any organization to leverage the love that people already have for true, meaningful change – instead of working against that love and forcing their employees into a reactionary, self-defensive position.

And that dissolves entirely the tension between companies’ need for change and workers’ distrust of it. When you make change lovable, there’s no need for hand-wringing.

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