Mastering Organizational Change - 50 Common Sense Tips - Part 6

things-do-not-changeHope everyone had a happy New Years! I spent New Years day in New York City, and I’d venture to guess that it was probably just about as crowded as New Years Eve. Still, a fun place to be on the holidays.

Now that it’s a new year and everyone’s focused on bringing about change, it’s only fitting that I continue this sixth installment in series of ten posts on 50 common sense tips on mastering organizational change, be it a new process, software rollout, or transitional culture change.

Points 26-29, continue the Selling phase in the three-step process I refer to as Planning, Selling, and Engaging. Point 30 begins the Engaging Phase.

26. Be Transparent – Be forthcoming about who is helped by the change and why. Some changes bring organizational efficiencies, and not necessarily individual efficiencies. People will generally be only thinking of the change’s impact to their own role unless they’re adequately informed of the overall benefits of the change. Get resistance and concerns out in the open, and address them publicly. The more you acknowledge concerns and address the ones you can, the more comfortable people will become with them. Silence breeds resistance. So do superficial or deceptive messages.

27. Be a Servant – Two things that bring people together are a common enemy and a common cause. Why not bring your people together in the interest of beating a competitor, or helping the end customer? If done with integrity and credibility, stressing the benefits of focusing on a third party (whether helping or outrunning them) can convey a need for sacrifice and get people working on the same side. Just be sure it’s sincere and accurate. People can tell if they’re being manipulated.

28. Ask for Help – Whoever the beneficiary of the change is, when communicating the desired new approach, try framing it as a call for help rather than a mandate. People by nature want to help others, and typically respond more favorably to requests for help than demands for action. If possible, try to stress each group’s specific role in making the new state successful. This is especially vital for international colleagues that may or may not appreciate the need for the change.

29. Watch Your Language – When it comes to culture change, language matters. Replace negative language and labels with constructive questions and terminology. Instead of “That won’t work,” try “How can we solve such-and-such issue?” Instead of “They’re just being difficult,” try asking “How can we best address their concerns?” It’s a matter of framing the challenge in a constructive way to turn naysayers into problem-solvers. Also, to illustrate your points, try to avoid abstract concepts or beliefs and instead focus on concrete examples. People have a hard time interpreting abstract concepts like integrity, trust, and passion. I recommend reading my friend and colleague Judith E. Glaser’s book, Conversational Intelligence, for much more in this area.

Engaging the People

By now, you’ve chosen your strategies and communicated the message in a variety of ways, including:

• Articulating the “why”
• Saying something simple, concrete, & different
• Being transparent about the needs & benefits
• Soliciting a call for help
• Telling emotional stories
• Presenting annotated charts that show causality; and
• Employing a variety of multi-media channels

But despite the most thoughtful strategies and clear, compelling communication, ultimately it is the ability to understand and lead people that will make or break your change initiative. And the best way to do that is to actively engage them.

Some of the suggestions in this section are people-focused, and some are operational. But all of them are designed to drive engagement.

Beginning with point #30 below, all the remaining tips in this series are in this crucial area.

hemingway-on-trust30. Don’t Dictate, Co-Create – Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them.” Likewise, the best way to get people more engaged is to engage them. Instead of seeking compliance, seek engagement. Find ways to involve people in the design of your change, and they’ll be more likely to follow it later. Peter Scholtes, quality management guru and author of The Team Handbook, endorsed this approach, often saying that people are more apt to observe standards they’ve helped create. If you can involve customers, all the better.


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