Are you struggling to get people on board when it comes to embracing change in your organization? If you’re nodding your head you’re not alone. Two brutal facts: One, Change is the new normal for leadership success and all leaders must accept this fact.
And two – studies continue to suggest that close to 70% of organizational change efforts lead fall under the category of unsuccessful outcome. So how can you work with people’s brains to make change easier? And how do you get your team within the 30%?
The main challenge with change has to do with change resistance and with what oftentimes can be categorized as leaders’ lack of skills in dealing with change resistance. The truth of the matter is that change resistance is something that we all struggle with, leaders included, to one extent or another. We encounter change resistance in many facets of our lives, sometimes not even realizing that this is what we are dealing with.
Take as an example a leader who feels extremely frustrated with a team member who struggles with adopting a new CRM system into their daily routine, while that leaders, outside of work, struggles with adopting new habits when it comes to their health, financial or parenting habits. So here is the good news: there are skills and tools for managing resistance to change. We just need to know what they are and add them to the way we handle not just team members as leaders, but also everyone and anyone in all aspects of our lives, including ourselves.
You see, change management is an extreme form of life skills- teamwork, habit formation, time management, interpersonal skills, efficiency, overcoming of adversity and more. In dealing with change all of these become a bit more extreme, hence the difficulties that we are all facing. Change management needs to be a skill that we all become trained in and ultimately really good at. The reason for that is that successful change management is the doorway to success and growth both on a personal level and on a team and organizational level.
To make things easier, I have compiled a simple triangle of the three best tips for keeping your team engaged, productive and motivated through change. I call it The Triangle of Change:
Here are the three sides of the Change Triangle in mind daily as you are leading your team through change and organizational growth:
Be mentally and emotionally prepared for the fact that some people have a harder time adjusting to change compared to others. Accept that your challenge as a leader is to help them not only adapt and thrive but also thrive and be productive, without judging them for the challenge that the organizational changes pose for them. They will follow your lead much better if you are accepting and attentive to the challenges that the changes pose for them.
So how do we do that? Research shows consistently that commitment to change doesn’t work when it is tied to a broad goal. Commitment to change works much better for well defined, concrete, time capped habit formation. Define to your team what you want, when you want it by and how. Keep enforcing new, well defined habits rather than focusing on the larger scale organizational changes. Those are oftentimes way too broad and intimidating to most team members.
Our brain hates not knowing what to expect and for that reason, change triggers anxiety, and anxiety stands in the way of performance. It turns out your brain craves certainty in a similar way, and using similar circuits, for how we crave food and other primary rewards. Information is rewarding. A sense of uncertainty resulting from lack of clarity generates a strong threat or alert response in your limbic system. Think of the brain as a prediction machine. Massive neuronal resources are devoted to predicting what will happen each moment.
All of this explains many otherwise strange phenomenon. Knowing that we automatically avoid uncertainty explains why any kind of change can be hard – it’s inherently uncertain. It explains why we prefer things we know over things that might be more fun, or better for us, but are new and therefore uncertain. It explains why we prefer the certainty of focusing on problems and finding answers in data from the past, rather than risking the uncertainty of new, creative solutions.
To combat the difficulty and anxiety that are typically associated with change, be as clear as you can. What do you expect? What exactly do you want? When do you want it by? Spell everything out and check yourself over and over again if you were clear. The clearer you are, the better your team performs. Especially in a change saturated environment.
Set the tone for honest and transparent communication. Once your team members trust that they can communicate openly with you, you will be able to have much more impact and gather valuable information about where everyone is as far as the process. Make communication a priority. If you are struggling with that, get training, read, work on your communication skills.
Every step you make to improve your communication styles equals ten steps to progress for your team. Should you meet antagonism, (and you probably will), keep in mind that you cannot ignore antagonism to change. It doesn’t go away on its own and it tends to gain increasing influence over time if neglected. Connect with the antagonists. Communicate with them. Work to understand the reason for the antagonism and work to set clear guidelines and boundaries on the other hand. Antagonists can be disarmed.
You just need to know how to work with them and make sure not to bury your head in the sand. In dealing with communication, always keep empowerment of others around you at the top of your daily focused efforts. One of the biggest keys to human motivation is that we all like to feel good about ourselves and we all like to feel that we matter. Never neglect to point out the good things that you see.
The people that you empower are your people once you start empowering them. Empowering is addictive. Everyone wants more of it. Don’t be cheap on empowering your team and don’t get lost in the big picture and neglect to do it. Empowerment is the secret key to the door of success. Those that know how to use it, open any doors.