Change is hard. In fact, it is damn hard. Yet we are being asked (or forced) to change more frequently than ever – in both our personal and business lives. The world is moving and changing faster than at anytime in our history. Think about it, five years ago, no one owned an iPhone.
Most people don’t like change. We fight it. We avoid it. We dismiss it and hope that it will just go away
Change often makes us uncomfortable. It alters how we do things, how we think about things, how we perceive things. It causes us to change habits that we’ve been perfecting for years and years. Change often replaces things that we’ve held dear for a long time – with new things that we are uncertain about.
Example: I used to advertise in trade journals. Now we focus more on social media and the web. Because I’m not alone in this shift, trade journals are forced to change how they do business or go out of business. They have to overcome a paradigm shift and explore unknown avenues of generating business.
So what separates those companies that are successful at change and those that are not?
Great leaders understand that change is hard. They know that just issuing a command from up-top isn’t going to be enough to make change happen down in the trenches. They understand that they need to work at changing the systems and environment in the workplace to allow change to happen. Great leaders understand that they need to show why change is necessary and important – not just for the stockholders, but for the workers and the customers. Successful change requires a multifaceted approach that requires fortitude to keep with it and not revert back to old ways of doing things at the first sign of resistance or negative results.
Focus on people
All the companies that I’ve worked with that were successful with change did one thing really well – they focused their energy on their people. When a large division of a telecommunication firm implemented a major new computer system and software that impacted their sales force, they spent months in communicating, training, and listening to their employees. They adapted their processes not only because of the new systems capabilities, but to help drive the adaption of the system with their employees.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Look at any book on organizational change and you will see that communication is vital. Companies that are successful at change make sure that they over communicate elements about the change to their employees, their suppliers, their customers and often even to the general public. Successful communication tells a story and starts to impact the culture – not only explaining the “what” and the “how” but the “why” and “impact.”
Make change as easy as possible
If I’m on a diet, I don’t want to be tempted by the ice cream in the freezer so I don’t buy ice cream and keep it in the freezer. In the same way, companies that do change successfully take away those elements that could entice workers to not change. They focus on getting the right people working together with the right tools and with the right incentives. Too often I’ve seen change initiatives that do a great job of being led by management, having training and communications reinforce the key messages, and then fall flat because the recognition or incentive system hasn’t been changed or wasn’t changed enough. For instance, a large company was trying to change the sales culture to one of great customer service and they even added in a metric to their incentive plan around customer satisfaction. However, the sales team quickly realized that sales results still drove the majority of the incentive plan and trumped the customer measure hands down. Needless to say, the focus on customer service was more lip service than getting that next sale.
Let me know your thoughts and your experiences with change – good and bad…