From Mechanical to Emotional: Making Change Personal
Change can be extremely difficult for people, especially when an organization is reshaping its strategy, adjusting its business model or facing a time of urgent transition. It’s even more difficult when people view change as something inherently bad (for example, layoffs) or when business processes have been in place for a very long time – sometimes, decades. When confronted with change, one of the most important things leaders can do is “prioritize people over processes.”(1) By making change personal (right down to the individual employee-level), leaders can connect their strategic vision with a common agenda that transcends the organization – encouraging people to participate in the change.
How can leaders help people establish a personal mindset for change, and thereby drive the change? The Allow-Engage-Express™ model is a way to create an organizational culture that embraces change.
Allow: Receive and Understand
When in the midst of change, leaders should create an environment that allows the employees to receive and understand the message of change that needs to take place. For instance, earlier in my career, I was delivering a message of change to our IT organization. The organization needed to transform from a cost center to a value center in order to be successful. This meant the elimination of jobs to some, and a change in roles to others. I was delivering the message via a standard powerpoint presentation and it became apparent the message was particularly disruptive to people. So we ditched the powerpoint, and I met with individuals 1:1 over coffee instead. This turned the conversation from one that was mechanical in nature to one that was emotional and invoked their trust. People were able to talk about how the change would impact them personally and I was able to tell them what they needed to do to be successful and help the organization succeed. For the people that were being let go, we gave them advance notice, allowing them to find work either within or outside of the company.
The essence of “allow” is that leaders develop trust by communicating honestly and clearly about the goals of the change and the important, specific role that each employee has in helping the business achieve those goals. You can’t build anything sustainable without trust.
Engage: Take Actions that Show Alignment and Visibility
Once the organization and employees have allowed the message of change to be received, it is important for leaders to encourage individuals to demonstrate they are part of the change. In the example referenced earlier regarding the transformation of the IT organization, many of the individuals aligned their work and career paths with the new direction of the business. Instead of continuing in their IT roles focused on maintenance and support, people moved to development roles that were focused on new, innovative technology. The commitment of taking on a new role was a way for them to visibly participate in the transformation of the IT organization.
Express: Show Learning and Give Feedback
Finally, it’s important to ask people to share their learnings and views. This expression can be verbal or written, or it can be done through the work product itself. I ask people to speak up at “town hall” meetings and share stories relating to how change has helped them personally or created a negative experience for them. Again, relating to the IT organization example, one tenured developer stood up and said that at first he thought the change was the worst thing that could have happened to him. But once he changed roles and engaged in the change, he said it was “the best thing that could have happened – I helped the organization reduce costs and I felt more valuable doing it because I was focused on innovation.” There were others that could not find a path forward which, ultimately, resulted in them leaving the business even though their skills were transferrable.
There is no app that helps drive change or does it for you. But, by helping personalize change for everyone, leaders can create a culture that is ready to enable positive change and transform businesses.
Joseph P. Morgan, Jr. is the founder and Chief Strategist at siY LLC, Be safe. Be inspired. Be YOU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) “5 Powerful Ways To Confront Change In The Workplace,” Forbes.com, July 26, 2017.
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