6 Simple Ways Leaders Can Manage Change Better

There’s always a quid pro quo to put successful implementation of any new idea.

‘If I accept your direction and agree to help you (execute it) what do I get in return?’ is the hidden question behind any change.

‘What’s in it for me?’ is the question that most implementation planning rarely asks.

It’s expected that the idea will sell itself.

That people in the organization will see the light and rally behind it regardless of personal consequences. That their loyalty to the organization (and receiving a regular paycheque) will trump any negative impact the change may have on them individually.

This is rubbish of course but I would say the majority of changes sought by organizations do NOT have the detailed ‘What’s in it for me?’ work done to make them successful.

I was recently asked by a major corporation to speak to their management team on the subject of change management. Their board had decided to move the organization to a new more modern building. Period.

The problem was that in the move, people lost many benefits they had in the old facility; smaller (or no) work stations and short commute times for example.

I was asked to come in and put a good face on the decision and provide some tips on how to deal with the employee fallout that was happening.

My challenge was that they had not done the ‘What’s in it for me?’ work as a part of the implementation planning. Or if it was considered it was assumed not to be a big deal; that employees would be persuaded that the bigger picture would outweigh any impact the move would have on them personally.

And they would buy in.

Not likely.

Employee buy-in only happens when people can see personal benefits — Roy, it’s all about me

Hygiene factors such as a more comfortable work environment and a shorter distance to work; career factors such as greater promotion potential and salary lift all play a more important role than the ‘strategic benefits’ of the planned change.

What are your options to sell the change if it is asymmetric in favour of the organization, and the planned change removes benefits for employees?

Come clean— Own up to the potential personal negatives the decision could cause for people. Trying to put lipstick on a pig and finess the downside exacerbates the situation; it just doesn’t work.

It’s best to acknowledge the negatives as well as the positives and declare what you’re planning to do to mitigate personal risk to employees.

Meet with employees — Pick a sample of employees and do a ZOOM call to get a more granular understanding of the personal negatives of the change.

Ideally, this should be done before the change is announced, but if it hasn’t, it’s critical that it be done before the decision is implemented.
And for the negatives expressed, ask for solutions that could be employed to keep the decision intact.

Emphasize the personal positives — Put the conversation on the benefits the change will have on the organization on the back burner and focus more on what it will do for people (and if you think that conversation will be light on content then be prepared to have a change that is good on paper only).

And balance the discussion between short term and long term benefits. If there are negatives in the short term, explain how people will be better off tomorrow — be as specific as you can and avoid lofty, ill-defined and vague benefits that people will not relate to — that and also what leadership intends to do to cushion people from the immediate ‘pain’ some will likely experience.

Be available 24X7 — It’s critical for leaders to be ‘always on’ to answer any questions individuals have on the change. It’s not sufficient to only host employee group meetings because some individuals won’t be comfortable asking their own personal questions in front of their peers.

Establish a dedicated telephone number or email address for people to connect with leadership and staff the support service with your most empathetic and caring people not staffers who want to push the high level strategic reasons for the change.

Sweeten the offer— If you find substantial resistance to your change idea, add some personal positives to the plan in recognition of what is being taken away.

In the final analysis, if you don’t do something positive to assuage the negative feelings employees have, the change will fail so if you have to make an extra investment, make it; the return will be worth it.

Put leadership on the hot seat — Hold the authors of the change accountable in front of the body of employees to defend the change. This is something a leader can’t delegate to one of their lieutenants.

Leaders accountable for the change decision need to feel the hot breath of angered employees to appreciate the personal negatives of the plan. Take the punch; the leadership brand is at stake.

Any planned change requires quid pro quo work if implementation is to succeed.

Don’t rely on lofty strategic reasons to persuade anyone to support change efforts.

Make it personal.

Related: The Next Generation of Leadership