How to Guide Change That Actually Works
I once worked with a bank president who wanted to make the organization bigger, add technology, and increase services. But his employees were resisting the change; they weren’t making any extra effort and weren’t following through on the change tasks he was asking them to do.
So I asked him, “What’s in it for the employees?” And he looked at me with complete surprise.
Here is the key to guiding change that actually sticks: People must be invested in the change.
Guiding change is different than forcing change. When you guide change, there is transparency during the process so the people who are involved will have a sense of what’s happening. This allows people to be involved in a meaningful way.
Many times clients will bring me in to help their employees feel like they are part of a change initiative. I say, “Do you want them to just feel it or actually be part of it?” This is the key! You can’t just tell people to make the change; you have to get them productively involved in making the change.
Many leaders see resistance to change as defiance or rejection of the master plan, when in fact a lot of resistance comes from fear—“I like the way we’re doing it now. I don’t know what my part will be in this new plan. I don’t understand why we need to change.”
Look for the passion in resistance. Many people who fear change are simply afraid of losing what they value about the organization. If you are able to guide change so that the Best DNA of the organization is protected, people will be much more likely to accept the change.
Back at the bank, I spent some time interviewing employees and discovered that they were resisting because they didn’t want to become like the big banks that didn’t care about their communities and their employees. (Ironically, several years after that, quite a few bank scandals came out in the news showing that they were right.)
The bank employees felt like the Best DNA of their organization was that they were a great community bank. They would be willing to participate in the change if they felt like the changes improved that.
We took the approach of finding out what people loved and building on that, versus rooting out the resistance and attacking it. If you attack resistance, guess what, people become more resistant!
I worked with the organization to identify its core values and vision, which were centered around community engagement. We then got all 200 employees into one room, seated at round tables, to brainstorm meaningful ways to continue and build engagement as they grew. It was a combination brainstorm, celebration of the good stuff about them, and a fun party. This generated the energy we needed to really take off.
Purposefully, we set up each table with a mix of employees: a security guard, a teller, management, a VP, etc. We did skills exercises to identify what would be needed as the bank grew, and shared best practices from branch to branch. The diversity at the tables helped people understand other departments and see what was valuable to everyone.
We started by identifying what they were already doing well. Soon everyone was sharing stories of how their coworkers were already living the core values. We created a Hero Wall, where people wrote these stories on large index cards, and throughout the event people stopped by the wall to read the examples. This process builds confidence in the ability to change, and a sense of momentum (being able to see how much they’re already doing well). Then they came up with hundreds of creative ideas on how to keep getting even better. They helped us prioritize the top ideas, and gave ideas on how to accomplish it.
This whole process was kick-started, and within six years they had grown from having $1 billion in assets to $17 billion, while actually making their culture stronger.
If you are working through change or have change on the horizon, I’d love to talk to you about it. Feel free to send me an email, no obligation!
Or check out more on our Guiding Change programs.