Change Happens through People, Not By Magic

A cartoon shows 6 business people sitting around a conference table talking about change management saying "What if we don't change at all and something magical happens?"

Though it might be tempting to wait for “something magical” to happen, real organizational change requires a concerted, ongoing effort by the people involved.

However, many organizations take the wrong approach to driving major change initiatives. They focus on designing new systems or processes rather than focusing on motivating workers to accept and support the change that is needed. Leaders need to think through why employees would naturally resist the change and find ways to encourage them to adopt the solution. If not, the value and success of the entire initiative is at risk. It’s the people who deserve the focus, not just the systems and processes that surround them.

One approach is to concentrate on the so-called “Moments of Truth.” The term is derived from the critical moment in a bullfight when the matador makes the kill. In the business world, moments of truth are those crucial or decisive times on which much depends…times that test a person and that will have an impact on the future. In a change effort, when an employee faces a moment of truth, the behavior they choose can have an unusually large influence on colleagues or customers. It’s an eminently teachable opportunity. When these moments are observed, immediate positive feedback can have an outsized effect on the behavior choices the employee makes going forward.

The challenge for change leaders is to overcome the legitimate reasons for employees to avoid the new, desired behavior. They may perceive it as a bad solution; they may find it difficult to learn; and they may still be rewarded by the company for the old behavior.

The old behaviors will persist unless you can:

  • Involve employees in designing and defining the right behavior.
    Invite them to work with you. Listen to their concerns and their perspective on the barriers to new behavior adoption. Enlist their help in devising ways to overcome the barriers. In so doing, you will give them a sense of ownership and, at the same time, you will build trust as a team.
  • Adapt the environment in ways that encourage the right new behaviors.
    This includes getting buy-in from all stakeholders, making sure managers and executives model the new behaviors, and designing appropriate reinforcement measures both internal and external. You want the employee to feel purpose and pride in doing work that is meaningful and doing it well. Employees deserve genuine feedback from their co-workers and appropriate recognition from their company superiors.

Support effective change management by thinking through how to gain employee commitment. Remember it’s all about the people. Through them, real and sustainable change can succeed.

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