Imagine this: An email arrives from the Chief Executive Officer of your company with the following message:
It is no secret that the past few years have been a struggle. Our competitors are buying market share at the expense of profitability. We must now undertake radical change to ensure our survival.
As a result, we are embarking on a complete reorganization of your division. This change will allow us to streamline decision making, improve communication, increase efficiency and focus all of our energy on customer needs.
We are a great company with an outstanding team, and I know that we can be even better. We have a history of leading our industry. I know that with your support and commitment, we can regain that position.
The intended message was one of crisis and opportunity to generate the urgency required to initiate change. Is that what was going through your mind?
Or were you worried about one or more of the following:
- How will we accomplish this reorganization and still complete the work?
- How is this going to affect our customers? Will it really be easier or will we lose customers in the transition?
- Will this work? Do we have the capacity and capability to pull this off?
- What will happen to my teammates? How are they going to be affected?
- What will happen to me? Will I have to work longer hours? How will it affect my job?
Don’t feel bad if you were not immediately engaged and energized by the boss’s message. Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken, consultants at McKinsey & Company, suggest that 80 percent of what leaders care about and talk about when trying to enlist support for change does not matter to 80 percent of the workforce.
Buy-in for change is the point at which the people involved – at least most of them – are actively working toward a shared vision of success. To gain it, you must connect with people where they are. And you do that by making the change relevant and real.
WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR
Here are the top five questions I hear from frontline employees as we talk about impending change:
- From what to what? Tell me the specifics of what we will be different in how we must think, act and perform.
- What does this change mean for what I do and how I operate on a daily basis? This is the personal application extension of the previous question.
- Will this make a difference? Is there a good business reason for doing this? How will it help the business or team? It is okay if the change is purely for compliance reasons. Just tell me.
- How will success be measured? If you can’t measure success, how will you know that there has been a return on our effort and investment? And how will you know whether to reward or hold me accountable for my participation?
- What is the support level for this change? Do you, my boss, really believe in this or is it another mandate from on high?
Remember: communicating change—even when it is done correctly—is subject to personal interpretation. We all process messages through the lens and baggage of our own experience.
WHAT THEY WANT TO DO
When it comes to successful change, you can count on these two truths:
- People support what they help create.
- No one ever argues with their own information and ideas.
So why not involve people early and often? Engaging others to participate in change can be as simple as asking for input to gauge reaction to proposed ideas. It can also mean active participation in how the change will be implemented or empowerment to give others control over the changes to be made, and how they are to be implemented.
Regardless of the approach you take, every opportunity to engage and involve others creates another opportunity to go beyond words and allow others to create their own reason to support change.
Creating the buy-in for change is really about connecting with people where they are. An effective communication plan is a critical first step, but change is best achieved when leaders actively involve others to help move from awareness and understanding, to support.
Randy Pennington is a business performance expert, award-winning author and speaker, and leading authority on leadership, culture, and change. Through his engaging articles, books, and presentations, Randy teaches companies and associations how to make change work within their organization; achieve positive results; effectively lead through transformation efforts; and build a strong organizational culture to safeguard success.