Good Managers Coax Change
Some things can’t be forced.
With thousands of books and articles out there — there’s even a trade organization — explaining how to drive “change management” in your organization, I sometimes wonder if you can manage change at all. My experience tells me that, too often, it’s change that tries to manage you.
I’m not trying to be glib here. Change is important. As a president and COO, it’s my job to keep improving, keep moving and keep changing our organization. But I find that coaxing change works better than driving it. Often, the most worthwhile idea is the one that you just can’t force; you just need to let it come to you.
Gardeners get this. They till the soil, plant the seeds and nurture the plants so they bear the best tasting fruits and vegetables when the season is right. Hot-house plants, picked before they are ripe, can be forced to grow year-round but flavor-wise, they just don’t measure up.
We need to nurture new ideas with the same patience and thoughtfulness as the gardener. As a leader, you need a keen insight to know when to force a change and when to let change grow organically.
Yes, look at the cost and resources for a speedy execution and, if the price of change is strictly a matter of dedicating more resources and you’re willing to make the investment to expedite that, then go for it.
But if the mission requires changing the hearts and minds of the very people who will make it succeed or fail, then exercise some patience. When your people recognize the value of a new idea that involves change, they will bring their ideas and energy to the solution. But until they get it, and embrace it, they’ll just keep going through empty motions, certain the idea will fail — and ensuring that outcome.
Resistance is “fertile.”
When you’re fired up by a plan to transform your company, disrupt the industry and delight your customers, patience is hard to come by. In fact, if the change is that important, we owe it to our organization to make it happen as quickly as possible, right? So, we push; sometimes too hard.
Yet, too often when change management fails, executives point to resistance within the organization as the sole cause of failure. They make the fateful mistake of thinking they can eliminate or punish the people who stand in the way of change. That’s a bad, and hurtful, mistake.
It’s easy to blame people who don’t get on board with new ideas, but change management can’t succeed without broad-based support. In fact, some resistance isn’t a bad thing. It means that the people in your organization who truly care are telling you what to be concerned about. That candor and insight can be harnessed to make change meaningful and far more successful.
It comes down to how we view the assignment. Instead of getting angry at signs of resistance or trying to simply mandate change, a good leader looks for an opportunity to solve the underlying issues creating that objection. That requires creating a safe, constructive environment where people share their concerns — or make recommendations — so that everyone is working toward the best outcome.
Share the process, not just the plan.
If your people are willing to share their concerns, shouldn’t you be willing to share the thinking and the process that led to this change? A professor of mine used to tell us that “education is revelation.” He’d say, “I can teach you ‘things,’ but I’d rather you discover the ‘truth’ on your own.”
That’s the job of a good leader. How often have you attended one of those in-house presentations about business conditions and new stretch goals, peppered with some third-party consultants’ research about the need for change? How motivated were you? Instead, try helping your people understand, own and direct some part of your overall plan.
Sure, some business change is confidential. Maybe you can’t announce a transaction or financial move. Yet, even after a major business decision has a been made, you can still involve your people in finding ways to execute on this new vision. Involving people in the “how to” is as important as the “what will be.” See how inspiring change management with discovery, not a dictum, works.
Leading people through change can be a daunting task. It’s best to know that real and meaningful change can’t be rushed. Resistance can sometimes be a positive part of the process. Involving the people who you’re asking to implement change puts everyone on the same side moving forward.
Remember, organizations don’t change, people do.