Change is the ubiquitous concept that, like a dust storm in the Sahara, permeates every aspect of our life and career. The path of life is marked by change. The conundrum is that despite the fact that change is an ever-present force, most of us are comfortable with the way things are and view change as a threat to be resisted. For many, change is the answer to a question they never asked. The problem is that the presence of change is never going to go away, meaning that unless we can respond to change in a positive way, we may go away. When you get right down to it, success in life and business will be determined by our ability to recognize, respond and adopt to change.
Change can take many forms – good and bad – but when it comes to our career or business, it can be an effective tool to help us achieve our goals and objectives. Without change, there can be no progress. The challenge for us is to figure out how change can be seen as an opportunity, rather than a threat.
Change Is In the Air
Have you even noticed that when you are the one proposing change it seems logical and the right thing to do? And yet, those who will be impacted by this change almost universally reject it; even though it may ultimately be highly beneficial for them. There is a logical reason for this negative reaction. Most often change is thrust upon us with the unexpected jolt of an earthquake. For those comfortable doing what they have been doing – and that includes most of us – it is the sudden shock of the change – not the change itself that is so disconcerting.
Corporate managers are most often the culprits when it comes imposing change in this fashion. You know how it happens: Everyone is called into an unannounced meeting; the manager stands up and out of the blue announces a change in the way things are to be. Even worse, a blast e-mail goes out to all employees and field representatives announcing the change. The change may be necessary and reasoned, but when it is presented as a fait accompli with no discussion or prior involvement of those impacted, the shock of the announcement causes nothing but confusion, consternation and initial resistance. The change itself and its potential benefits can be lost in the shock of how the change is implemented.
Not surprisingly, those most shocked by the negative reaction to the announced change are the managers who thought they had fully worked through the change and its implementation. Managers can’t understand why others are so opposed to the change. Could it be that the followers react as they do because they don’t know the ins-and-outs involved in making the change? It was a lesson that I as a corporate manager and leader learned the hard way.
What I learned was that when change is needed, the best way to gain the acceptance and support of those who will be impacted by the change is to always engage them in the process of making the change.
Make Change a Strategy
There are many examples of how this change-strategy can be implemented, but let me offer just one. There was a time when the structure and cost of bonus plan for field representatives of a company I was leading needed to be changed. No one is more sensitive to a change in compensation than a commissioned sales person. The change was needed and in the long run it would benefit the best field reps, but the challenge was to implement the changes without causing a revolt among the field reps.
The strategy adopted early in the process of determining the structure of the change was to meet with field leaders – those who would be most impacted by the proposed change – and bring them into the process. It was explained why changes were needed and the amount of cost savings that needed to be captured. These field leaders understood that these changes were coming, but by including them in the process, they were afforded the opportunity to offer ideas as to the structure of the new compensation system and how the changes would be implemented. The real value in this approach was to eliminate the shock of the changes when they were announced and it allowed those who were going to be impacted to be part of the solution.
When the final changes were announced to the entire field, these leader were not surprised and were in position to support and explain the changes to others, because they had been part of the process. And in most cases these field leaders had already begun the process of conditioning those who worked for them to the upcoming changes. This approach to change-management is not a magic pill that will eliminate all resistance to change, but it does go a long way in reducing the “shock and awe” that comes with most change.
There is another concrete benefit to including those who will be impacted by the change in the process of change. I discovered that no matter how diligent I and the other company leaders were in thinking through the process of change, there was always – without exception – something that we had failed to consider. Those who would have to live with the changes came at them from a different perspective and were able to identify issues we had missed.
In the end, change is always going to be present. More often than not, what determines whether change has a negative or positive impact on a leader’s ability to lead or an organization’s success depends on how change is introduced; even more so than the change itself.