Smart leaders understand that they don’t “make” a change happen. They recognize that the people in their organization do the work, change behaviors, and, ultimately, make the change happen. They understand that their role is to make the change meaningful and easier to accept. Smart leaders facilitate change.
Let’s look at five things smart leaders do to lower the barriers to change.
1. They sell more than they tell
Smart leaders are comfortable selling their ideas. They understand that “telling” someone what’s going to happen is very different from “selling” them on the idea. I do not suggest that smart leaders use so called “high-pressure” sales tactics. By selling, I mean that they look for ways to get people emotionally committed to the change.
They paint, and re-paint, the vision for people. They focus on the benefits, not the costs. They understand that people need time to adjust, time to accept the change. They work to inspire buy-in rather than compliance.
2. They help people tune-in to WII-FM
Sales and marketing professionals talk about the radio station that most people tune-in to on a daily basis. They know about WII-FM (What’s in it for me?).
If it’s true about people in the marketplace, then it’s true about people in the workplace. Smart leaders know how to answer the question on every employee’s mind: “What’s in it for me?”
Dr. Aubrey Daniels, noted behavioral analyst and author of Bringing Out the Best in People, makes two great comments regarding change acceptance:
- “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed,” and
- “People don’t resist change if the change provides immediate positive consequences to them.”
Smart leaders know that people are generally more willing to do things that bring personal benefit than they are to do things that benefit the organization. They take a pragmatic, not a cynical or negative, view of human nature. They see people for who they are and work to adjust their strategy to go with — not against — the natural drives of people in their organization.
3. They work through the “head grapes”
Every organization has a grapevine — an unofficial communication channel that often moves faster than official ones. You might call the people who other people listen to, and therefore influence the grapevine, the “head grapes.”
Smart leaders are not too impressed with themselves. They recognize that the head grapes have more personal influence within certain employee groups than they do. They understand leadership is about trust and relationship; it is not about position. Recognizing this truth, they seek out influencers in the organization. They strive to get the influencers onboard with the change. They understand the power of relationships, and they put that power to work. They work with the head grapes to affect change so that they don’t have to push against the head grapes’ resistance.
4. They break the change into “bite-sized” pieces
Smart leaders understand that people need both information and time to accept a change. They also realize that they can’t wait forever to get everyone onboard. So, they break big changes into small pieces that people are willing to accept more quickly. By moving in stages, smart leaders move their organizations with steady forward progress instead of periodic quantum leaps.
5. They build positive momentum
By breaking big changes into bite-sized pieces, smart leaders set themselves up to build positive momentum. Smart leaders know that an early failure or setback can create more resistance later — even if they overcome the initial setback. Building a record of quick, early wins helps people accept the upsets that will happen on the way to success. Smart leaders understand the power of momentum — either positive or negative. They break changes into small pieces then pick their first move because it has a high-probability of success.