7 Ways Leaders Get Their People To Embrace Change

Dr. Alan Zimmerman, Author, The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want out of Life and Work

7 Ways Leaders Get Their People To Embrace Change

As a leader, you've got to bring your people through one change after another. It's almost a part of your job description. And yet, you may have never received any training in how to do that.

To make matters worse, your people may be confused, resistant, or disheartened. And you're not even able to offer them job security, company loyalty, and steady career advancement as rewards for their change-ability.

So how can you get your people to embrace change under these conditions? There are 7 things you can and should do.

1. Participation

People tend to change when they have participated in the decision to change. And if that's not possible, people need...at the very least...to feel like participants in the communication process surrounding the change.

Prepare your employees. Let them know what is going to happen. Give your people as much information as they need and want as early as possible. Dr. Tamotsu Shibutani, a noted sociologist, said, "You had better keep your employees informed, or they'll make it up, and it won't be flattering."

You've got to avoid surprises. And participation does exactly that. Too often companies present change as a series of surprises. "Surprise! Surprise! Tomorrow your job will be different." People's first response to anything that is a total surprise is resistance.

2. Rewards

People tend to keep on doing things the way they’ve always done them if they don't see some kind of reward for changing. By contrast, employees tend to embrace change when they see the rewards of change are greater than the pain and hassles of going through the process.  

So don't get offended when your people ask the "what's-in-it-for-me" question.  They have a right to know, and you have an obligation to give them a great answer.

3. Models

People tend to change when they see others changing, particularly people they value. Like it or not, as the manager or leader, you set the climate. Your coworkers are always watching you to see what they should do. So let them see the changes you are making.

And let them see your passion for the change. Let them see it in your actions and hear it in your words.  After all, people change when they know you’re feeling some of the same things they are.

Express your feelings. Your self-disclosure can be a very powerful, bonding strategy because -- more often than not -- you reflect what your people are feeling. Some fear, some excitement, and a host of other feelings.  And they'll end up being a lot more trusting of you and accepting of the change.

4.  Acceptance

As your people go through change, there will probably be a few mistakes and failures along the way. That's okay…if your people work in an environment that is free from threat and judgment. The best change leaders know there has to be some no-fault, trial-and-error learning experiments along the way.

But you may have to remind your people that they will still be valued -- even if they experience a little failure implementing the change. Take Henry Ford’s approach, who said, "Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently."

Let your people know that failure is the other side of success. Guidance counselor Bob Atkinson says, "If you're not failing pretty regularly, you're working below your capacity -- which is a failure in and of itself."

Express acceptance of your people and the occasional mistakes they make.  It will work as a motivational force. Instead of seeing failure as reason to quit, they’ll see it as a challenge to overcome.

5.  Trust

People tend to change when they trust the motives of their change leaders. So talk to your people face to face. It's very difficult to build trust through a memo or newsletter.

In fact memos and newsletters are a very poor way to inform people of important changes. Rather than encourage the exchange of feelings, written announcements are often used to avoid people and their feelings.

When you do talk face to face, tell the truth. Change always brings loss. So acknowledge their loss -- rather than pretend it doesn't exist. Remember, people do not fear change; they fear loss.  And one of the best ways to overcome that fear is to trust the motives of the change leader.

Change always threatens people's security. Don't deny the threat. Tell them how you see the change affecting individual employees and the organization as a whole.

6.  Competency

Competency cannot be overemphasized. People are more likely to change when they have the knowledge or skills required by the change. So train, train, train.  It helps reduce the fear of failure that often accompanies change.

As Jerry Stead, President of AT&T Communication Systems used to say, "We can't promise you job security, but we can promise to make you better than anyone else at your job. So if something happens, you can find a job inside or outside AT&T."

7.  Success

Lastly, as the leader, make sure your people "see" success. Your coworkers are more likely to change when they "see" that the change has been successful somewhere else. Most people want some assurance that it's been tried and it works. So tell stories and give lots of examples of how successful the change has been in other locations.

As a leader, you will be expected to lead others through change throughout the rest of your career.  The more of the 7 practices you employ, the more cooperation you’re going to get. 

About the Author

Dr. Alan Zimmerman speaks to organizations that want to transform the people side of their business.  His keynotes and seminars focus on the communication, motivation, leadership, and teamwork that pay off in bigger results and better relationships … on and off the job.  To learn more about his work, check out his web site at http://www.DrZimmerman.com or his new book, The Payoff Principle:  Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want out of Life and Work, at http://thepayoffprinciple.com.  And he would be glad to send you a document that you can use to assess how well you’re applying the 7 change factors to your work situation if you simply email him at Alan@DrZimmerman.com.