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How to Lead Change in Your Organization

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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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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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