I think it was Alphonse Karr who first said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same” And, if we look back in history we will no doubt find a myriad of examples that bear this out. The thing about change though, is that while it’s happening, it feels new, raw, foreign and unfamiliar. So, making a planned change successful is probably one of the most challenging things a leader can undertake.
A few weeks ago Anne Perschel wrote a post called “Leading Change: The Playbook Chapter 1, Principles 1 & 2”, those principles being, Empathize and Involve.
After reading Anne’s post, I began to think about what might follow after everyone has come to appreciate the need and urgency for change and signed on.
The word that kept coming up for me was Reinforce.
For instance, I remember the year I stopped smoking.
I had been thinking of doing it for a while, not for any noble reason, but because my office building was about to be declared a smoke-free zone and I didn’t fancy smoking on the street. And too, smoking, I was told, would give me wrinkles. (I am nothing if not vain).
In spite of my initial enthusiasm, as I moved through the process of changing from a smoker to a non-smoker, my commitment to it began to wane. The new vision I held of myself as a non-smoker started to blur and the temptation to revert to my old ways grew stronger. That’s pretty typical, even when we choose to change. That’s why reinforcement is vitally important.
So what must we do to provide this reinforcement? Well, here’s what I think.
Watch and Listen ~ Over the course of the change process, people will suffer in a variety of ways. For example, when I stopped smoking, I gained weight; I contracted shingles; and I experienced inexplicable emotional meltdowns. While this may not be a consequence of organizational change, you can bet there will be other kinds of suffering and stress in the air. Watching carefully and listening for the signs will allow us the opportunity to anticipate the negative effects of change and mitigate them to avoid the potential for derailment.
Keep the empathy coming~ I believe people are more willing to stay the course of change when their leaders genuinely strive to understand and share their feelings during each stage of the process. That means travelling down the road with them and bringing our own emotions with us.
Keep everyone’s eyes on the prize ~ Just as I had to be reminded, and continually imagine, life as a non-smoker, in change initiatives, so must we, as leaders, keep the new vision alive in the hearts and minds of people who follow us. I needed someone to tell me that my suffering would, in the end, be worthwhile. So will they.
Burn the bridges that Lead back to the old world~ I think, if we want people to move away from the old world, we have to render that world unattainable. For example, I was no longer going to be able to enjoy smoking at my desk or even in the cafeteria at work. That world had changed. And so, even if I wanted to go back to the way things were, I couldn’t. The bridge had been burned. So, a question to ask ourselves might be, to what extent have I dismantled the trappings of our old world?
Model what we want to see ~ No matter how much encouragement my colleagues who smoked gave me in my quest to stop, it was hard for me to believe them as they offered me their best advice between cigarette breaks. Being mindful of our own actions as we move through change keeps things real for everyone. Simply put, if we want others to change, we have to change too…and go first.
Recognize and acknowledge behaviour and actions that align with the new ~ Real change comes about when we begin to notice new behaviour and actions in others. When this occurs, it is crucial to acknowledge those who are both consciously and unconsciously bringing the change to fruition. It is a prime opportunity for reinforcement, especially for those people who continue to struggle with the prospect of embracing the new world.
What do you think? What have I missed? What other principles besides empathize, involve and reinforce come to mind for you when you contemplate the challenge of change?