Introducing change

Most people recognize that change is happening throughout society today, but that doesn’t mean they like it. If truth be known, even most leaders do not enjoy change. We’re quite comfortable in our ruts, and we would like to stay there. Unfortunately, a rut is nothing more than a grave with both ends kicked out. There’s not much life around a grave, and there’s not much life around ruts either. Get too comfortable in your ruts, and one day you’ll realize that everyone has passed by you long ago.

To be successful, and to remain successful, in any endeavor means that we must be willing to adapt to the changes that are taking place. If we cannot keep up with the changes we will have to find another way to support ourselves. A friend of mine was a dairy farmer for many years. His parents were dairy farmers, and I would guess so were their parents. I found out my friend had joined a national investment company as a broker. I asked how he went from milking cows to investments. He responded that he realized one day where the dairy business was going and realized he would either have to get much larger or get out. He decided he didn’t want to invest the amount of money he would have to to remain in the dairy business so he began looking for other options that he might enjoy. He has done quite well as an investment broker.

Your company may be very successful today, but that doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. If you are not willing to change the way you do business to meet changes in our society you will not last long. Of course, any changes you attempt will make people feel uncomfortable, and if they are not initiated properly they are highly likely to fail. What do you need to keep in mind when introducing change into your organization?

The most critical first step is to create a sense of urgency around the change. Almost every change effort I’ve tried to make that failed did so because I failed to create a sense of urgency. I told people what we were going to do differently before I explained why we needed to change the way we were going to do something. The why must always come before the what.

It’s also important to get buy-in for the why before proceeding on. When people understand that it’s vital to make a change they will be more receptive when you explain what the change will look like.

After creating urgency, the next critical step is helping people understand what their role will be in the new system you are proposing. When hearing of change the first concern of many people will be what their role will look like in a new system. Even worse, they fear they won’t have a role once the change takes effect. This fear needs to be addressed as early as possible if you want their buy-in. It’s also important that you are completely honest and upfront with people at this stage or you will meet even greater resistance the next time you want to change something.

I once worked for a large company that asked their employees to make recommendations for reducing costs. They insisted it was the only way they could remain in business. They promised that if any recommendation resulted in reduced manpower that they would find work for those people elsewhere in the plant. A number of recommendations were made, and changes took place. However, we soon noticed that people were being laid off or not replaced when they retired. The numbers of employees kept shrinking as a result of our suggestions. At that point, the suggestions from shop employees dried up because we felt we had been misled.

No one enjoys change, but if it’s introduced properly most people will eventually buy into it. Be sure to create a sense of urgency and help people understand they will continue to have an important role in your organization after the change is adopted.

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