Change is an integral part of any type of growth. If any organization is to grow, leadership must recognize that change is inevitable, and then set up a process to help people embrace it. Too often, employees experience what they perceive to be random attempts at change with no thought-out plan. It is these impulsive and unsuccessful change attempts which lead to an organizational culture of skepticism and negativity. To prevent such a culture from taking root in their organizations, leaders need to: (a) be aware that most people dislike change, (b) solicit input from the employees, and (c) communicate and celebrate the change.
When trying to implement a change, the first thing leaders need to understand is that most people reject change. In fact, up to 80% of people in an organization can be labeled as reactive thinkers. Reactive thinkers tend to resist change, avoid responsibility, fear taking risks, and have low confidence (Oakley and Krug, 1991). Therefore, change efforts must begin by changing the mindset of these individuals. As Oakley and Krug emphasize, one of leadership’s main responsibilities is to bring out the best in those they lead. Attitude is critical to performance, and one of the key issues behind attitude is one’s self-esteem. One way to help improve employee self-esteem is by soliciting their input during the change process.
Some leaders have the “it’s my way or the highway” mentality – they believe they can impose their ideas onto other people. And yet, as Oakley and Krug point out, this philosophy does not work for implementing long-term change (1991). Instead of only telling people what to do, leaders should strive to engage employees in the change process. Leaders can do this by asking for employee feedback, questions, and ideas to make the change more successful. This experience not only increases employees’ self-esteem and confidence, it also helps employees feel a sense of ownership for the change initiative.
Engaging people throughout the change process facilitates organizational “buy-in.” Without such commitment it will be impossible to move change forward. Another way to develop buy-in is by building trust with one’s employees. It is only when people trust a leader that they will be willing to follow him or her into the unknown territory of change.
One way of building trust is through constant, clear, and honest communication. The first step in the communication process is to develop a clear vision around why the change needs to take place and what it will look like. Unless change is clear in the leader’s mind, it will be impossible for him or her to communicate a compelling vision to others (the same is true for leadership teams).
Once the leader is clear on the vision, he/she needs to communicate it. Leaders can communicate the vision by delivering speeches, sending emails, posting the vision statement on the wall, participating in discussions – but most importantly – by “living out” the message. As Kotter (1995) says, “Communication comes in both word and deeds, and the latter are often the most powerful form” (p.65).
This consistent communication in word and deed will reinforce the change process as will celebrating successes. Many times leaders are so bogged down with trying to achieve results, they do not take the time, energy, and resources to acknowledge success. For employees, the perception of never being recognized can erode their desire to engage in change as engaging usually takes great effort. One way to combat this is by celebrating short-term wins and recognizing, perhaps even rewarding, employees for their involvement in the change process (1995).
Overall, leaders need to remember that change does not happen overnight. Instead, it is a long and deliberate process that requires engaging one’s employees, communicating a clear vision, and celebrating successes along the way. When used together, these actions will help employees open their minds and be more receptive to new ideas and change in order to help the organization grow.
- Kotter, J. (March, 1995). Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review.
- Oakely, E., Krug, D. (1991). Enlightened leadership. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.