“If you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela.
Change is inevitable. Change moves us forward. Yet 70% of change initiatives fail. Many companies are taking on large, complex business transformations and are investing in change management consultants and change training to improve their odds of success. These investments are valuable – according to Prosci, projects with excellent change management have six times the rate of success than those that don’t. But the consultants leave, change training often isn’t sustained, and leaders jump into the next initiative without looking back. Prosci’s ADKAR model spells out the critical elements to making change successful: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. Most leaders understand the importance of awareness. Explaining why the change is happening and necessary is a critical step in the change process. We often invest a lot in knowledge via training and, if it’s done right, that knowledge can spur and develop people’s ability to make the change. What we often overlook is the importance of desire. Desire is the most challenging element of change because it can’t be solved with a process or a Powerpoint. Many managers believe we pay people to do what they are told and are uncomfortable leaning into the personal side of change. But organizational change is dependent on individual change. Addressing desire means giving employees a voice, focusing on the WIIFM, and acknowledging individual’s choices.
Giving employees a voice. Once we decide to embark on a change initiative, we should quickly solicit employee input on the change. Engaging those closest to the work early in the change is critical. A recent Aon white paper showed that when companies undergo a large change, connection and control are two of the biggest drivers of engagement. Employees want to have a personal connection to leaders. The Best Practices in Change Management 2016 report states that the number one contributor to a change initiative’s success is how visible and actively engaged senior leaders are. Leaders need to engage in two way dialogue to listen to and validate employee concerns and to provide factual information about what is changing. Giving employees a voice is an important part of giving them control. In most changes employees feel the change is happening to them rather than feeling they are involved in the change process. Inviting employees to provide ideas, react to different scenarios, and have a say in the outcomes allows people to participate in the change rather than simply being recipients of change.
Focusing on the WIIFM: This is the step where many organizations stumble. WIIFM is not what’s in it for the executives and the shareholders. It’s What’s It In For Me. The truth sometimes is that there’s not much in it for me. In which case we need to communicate the WIRM: What Is Required of Me. Employees are adults that we trust with our brand, our customers, and our IP. We need to give them that same level of trust with information about change. Executives are best positioned to explain why we are changing and the new organizational direction. Managers are best positioned to talk about the WIIFM and WIRM. Employees are more likely to trust their manager than an executive and are more likely to be candid with their direct leader. Managers can then raise feedback and concerns from their team back up to leaders. This means we need to ensure managers can explain the change confidently and accurately in their own words. Corporate speak about “leverage” and “bifurcated processes” won’t resonate. People want to know what they will gain, what they will lose, and what they need to do differently as a result of the change. The less room we leave for speculation, the more energy people can put into moving forward.
Acknowledging individual’s choices. Try as we might, we can’t will our way through change and sustain the results. Listening to and addressing employees’ concerns, modifying plans based on their feedback, and being honest about what’s changing are the bricks we lay to invite them down the path of the change. Acknowledging that people are going to have to make tough choices such as giving up their expertise in a certain system, moving to a new team, and/or taking on new responsibilities is important. It is also important to highlight the benefits of the change, including new incentives, appealing to employees’ values, avoiding risk, and/or improving the current state. Helping employees navigate the micro and macro choices along the change is essential to maintain the change’s momentum. Most people will come along once they understand the “why” and if they feel they had some voice in the “what, how, or when.” We also need to make it ok for people to opt out. As Jim Collins says in the book Good to Great, it is important to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. It’s ok if someone can’t get on board with the change. However that also means choosing to get off the bus and finding a new destination.
80-100% of change initiatives are dependent on people working in a new way. How quickly the change was adopted, how many employees are using the new solution, and how well employees are performing in the new model are tangible ROI change measures. If we want to win our team’s hearts and minds, we must listen to their thoughts and speak in their language. Desire may sound squishy but it is a key part of a change plan. Without desire, our investment in knowledge and ability won’t reap rewards. Giving employees a voice, focusing on the WIIFM, and acknowledging individual’s choices are key elements in building desire and in making change sustainable.