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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 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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