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How to Lead Change in Your Organization

How to Lead Change in Your Organization

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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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