Barry Johnson

Innovation

Driving Sustainable Change

People fear the unknown. So make it known.

Published: Monday, March 12, 2018 - 13:03

P eople naturally fear change. I hear that all the time, but I don't believe it. What people really fear is the unknown. People actually embrace change if they understand it. We see this when people try to change their habits, their bodies, their relationships, and their jobs. They don't fear those changes because they know about them and own them.

Once the unknown becomes known, fears diminish. To make people comfortable and to gain acceptance of a pending adjustment, change must be carefully managed. This is especially true for transformations organizations often need to go through to continue their success. The following model is a simple tool to understand change management at a basic level.


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There are three primary steps in this model: "See it," "Own it," and "Do it." For an organization to successfully change to "Do it," ownership must occur.  To "Own it," the organization must first understand the change and why it needs to happen. This starts with individuals in the organization being able to "See it."

These three primary steps can be broken down into six components. All are necessary for change to be successful, and if any component is missing, there will be an undesirable result. If the stakeholders don't understand why change is necessary, they will think it doesn't really matter, and there will be a lack of effort. Here are the six components explained:

1. Leader commitment
If the leadership team doesn't demonstrate a commitment, people will not take it seriously. They will think it is all just talk, and they will choose to "just ride it out" until the new idea fades. Demonstrating commitment involves the language and message leaders use, but to get others to believe your commitment is real, you must also carry out actions to show that the organization is really moving.

2. How individuals benefit
When a change is first proposed, we naturally think of how we are personally affected first. It is incumbent upon the change leader to clearly communicate how individuals will benefit; otherwise, those individuals will think the extra effort isn't worth it. This can be challenging if a change negatively affects an individual for the betterment of the overall organization. In such cases, the leader may need to shift the focus to what an individual can do to minimize the negative effect.

3. The road map
As with any journey, a proper plan or road map is required. By designing and sharing the plan before starting implementation, the organization can better understand not only where it needs to go, but also how it will get there. This is also a great opportunity to get different perspectives so potential pitfalls and unintended consequences can be identified. Tapping into a diverse set of experiences will help the company develop the best plan, as well as gain buy-in from those affected. If the plan isn't understood, the organization will just spin its wheels with no traction.

4. Skills needed for change
To arrive successfully at the goal, team members must first be equipped with the proper skills, knowledge, and tools. Thought must be given so the organization will be ready both collectively and individually. If employees aren't prepared, they will believe they can't be successful after the change and will become frustrated.

5. Reinforcement
Finally, leaders within the organization (regardless of position) need to keep reinforcing the change. In particular, positive aspects of the change must be reiterated, and successes should be celebrated. Reinforcement drives the new methods into the culture and rewarding the desired behaviors will ingrain them into the mindsets of the employees. A common fatal flaw of many leaders is to short-change this step, and when they do, change doesn't last.

6. Steering the process
You can get a quick read on how a change effort is going by listening to the phrases team members are using. If you hear things such as, "There's no real problem," or, "It doesn't really matter," you will know the organization doesn't see the need or grasp the situation. This can be combated by remessaging and making a more compelling case.

If you hear phrases like, "This is just the next program of the month," or, "I know this won't stick," the perception is that the leadership team isn't fully behind the effort. A full commitment must be demonstrated, and the leadership team's actions must back up their words.

If people say, "It isn't worth it," they are expressing a concern that they will not benefit from the new way of operating. Change takes extra effort, and people won't put in the required energy unless they see their effort will lead to a greater return. The benefits at two levels must be understood.  Members must not only see the advantage to the organization, they must also be able to personalize the payback.

If people feel they are lost or on a treadmill, they clearly don't understand the path or what is needed to get where the organization is going. The implementation plan should be broken down into easily understood and manageable tasks to help people connect the dots as the company moves forward. This is also a great time to outline expected contributions from various groups/individuals so people can recognize how they fit into the effort, and know if they are behaving as they should.

If people are doubting that the organization can pull off the change, they are usually personalizing their anxiety. New methods and processes usually require new skills. When employees are lacking a skill or particular piece of information, they can get nervous very quickly. Take time to recognize what is needed in the new environment and work with individuals to develop a plan to grow their skill sets. This allows them to express fears and gives you a chance not only to address those concerns head-on, but also to understand what you need to do to set these worriers up for success.

You will often hear comments like, "Yes, we can do that but...." What comes after the "but" is critical. Pay attention to such phrases. This means the individual has bought into the solution but sees potential stumbling blocks. Your job then becomes much easier because identifying the risks is half the battle; all you have to do now is remove those roadblocks.

If people doubt the change will last, it is most likely because they've seen successful changes in the past that eroded over time. To ensure sustainability, the new behaviors must be celebrated and rewarded. When people see that new methods are recognized, they will want to be a part of them.

When all six components are present, when individuals within the organization see it, own it, and do it, effective change will be sustained, and improvement can occur.

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About The Author

Barry Johnson’s picture

Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson serves as president of Performance Optimization Associates LLC, a performance improvement consulting group. Johnson has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tulsa and a master’s degree in leadership from Grand Canyon University. He has more than 25 years of operations, engineering, and management experience in diverse industries such as oil and gas, automotive, consumer goods, electric utilities, and recreation. He can be contacted at barrygjohnson@sbcglobal.net .

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