Ever had the moment when you go into your closet to grab your favorite shirt only to realize it is missing a button, torn, or in the laundry? At that moment, you have a choice – be mad, grab a needle and thread or pick something else. Even the most change savvy amongst you may need to remind yourselves to be flexible and pivot. Otherwise, you are in for a lousy morning and, potentially, day.
While picking a different shirt may seem simple, it is a perfect example of just one of many choices we encounter. And what if we do not have the skills necessary to make the change? What if the tools are not available? As the changes become more complex, our human emotions and reactions do not necessarily vary all that much.
Ken Blanchard reminds us there are common reactions to change; feeling awkward, self-conscious, focusing on what we are losing, feeling alone, being immobilized and non-productive, concerned about resources and skills, and simply feeling stuck. We eventually get to exuberance, nervousness, and future-orientation anxiety/excited possibilities, but it is typically the second reaction rather than the first. As I review that list of reactions again, it strikes me as intimidating. And it makes me challenge every reader out there with how you are helping your employees move through transitions. Are all of us really doing our best?
Back to my missing button example for a moment; let us look at tools. Do I have access to a needle and thread? How about skills? Do I possess the knowledge and dexterity to sew on a button? Mind you, I have likely already left the house with a different blouse, but some of you are still shopping in your closet. So, let us look at the collective ‘organizational’ laundry we have; are we supplying the tools, the education, and the time to complete the task or allow employees to master skills for success? Do we know the entire audience that will be impacted?
Gallup introduced new change management principles a few years ago centered around behavioral research and an intentional inquiry into the positive. Gallup talked about ‘the positive change principle’ –to focus on what is working well and what a positive, energizing vision of the future could look like rather than focusing solely on problems, issues, and obstacles. What if, when I am presented with a change, the options I have to select from actually increase my self-confidence and future success? I have taken a frustrating moment and created a different outcome – albeit an optimistic one.
As a change practitioner, I will humbly admit I do not always get it right. There are ten different ways to do everything. There are scenarios my team has not envisioned. Overall, what to focus on within the change, and how to modify the behaviors can be very subjective. Yet, starting with core building blocks and crafting an optimistic shared vision creates a strong foundation, a solid north star for everyone to rally around and revisit when we get lost or sidetracked.
“One of the best examples of success comes when a team is open to ideas and challenges—learning to take input not as criticism but as constructive feedback”
Let us play out a few real examples. Our team is going through a company integration right now. We acquired a like size and like revenue company. The two companies have a complementary set of products, geographic footprint, and skill sets. There are clear winners in more innovative technology on one side of the company, a combination of different products that filled gaps between the two portfolios, and a leadership team that joined together to create and implement the strategy that would win us a greater market share. And while some employees have opted out or we have asked to leave, those who stay have pivoted. They have chosen to look towards the future and embrace the journey. What enables these employees to do differently?
As the leaders and I travel to our sites, employees state they understand the shared vision and have a sense of pride in creating our future. There is nervous energy but also a sense of real possibility in the air, and they are holding us accountable to our ‘say-do’ ratios. Yes, there are some fence-sitters, but every day we implement the positive change principle to focus on what the future can look like.
We bring everyone into the fold by communicating progress with complete transparency. We ask for ideas, share wins, talk about mistakes or missteps, and discuss what to do next. We embrace a culture where we learn and have a spirit of continuous improvement. Most importantly, we make small daily tweaks to deliver what we have set out to accomplish, align back to our north star, and, alas, take the win when a few fence-sitters jump to the positive change principal side of the fence.
We reground ourselves and focus:
• Understand human reactions to change and plan for solutions.
• Create a positive, energizing vision of the future.
• Identify what is changing and how.
• Plan and implement education, skill building, and reinforcement.
• Identify and acquire the tools/resources to support the change.
•Communicate. Invite Input. Do something with that input.
• Learn. Make Mistakes. Learn.
One of the best examples of success comes when our team is open to ideas and challenges—learning to take input not as criticism but as constructive feedback. And we have learned some big lessons. So again, we are constantly pivoting. We learn together as a team, we get tough with ourselves about improving cross-functional communication, and we make adjustments.
I cannot tell you the end of that story because it is far from over. We dig deep into data, analyze both the quantitative and qualitative experiences, and we move ahead. Do some teams lack the tools to be successful? Absolutely. Yet identifying, planning, and envisioning success allows us to seek out advocates and change agents in all areas of our business. Together, we are creating a powerful culture of accountability, experimentation, and achievement. We are most definitely stronger together.