Don’t Forget to Address These Five Concerns When Leading Change
“Leading people through change requires a willingness to address the concerns people have when they are being asked to take on something different,” says Dr. Vicki Halsey, vice president of applied learning at The Ken Blanchard Companies.
“It’s also about dealing with the emotions people are going through as they experience change—emotions such as: I don’t want to do this. I don't have time to do that. I don't know how to do this,” says Halsey. “All of these feelings have to be addressed successfully or your change efforts will be just another bit of information bouncing off of their already full container of emotion.”
Halsey reminds leaders that organisations change when people change.
“People are walking emotions, especially now with all the micro-stressors and other things going on. And you're saying to them, ‘Hey, we have this great change.’ And they're like, ‘Are you kidding me? My physiology just can't do one more thing.’”
Halsey’s recommendation? “As a leader, your job is to open up the top of their full container and let them express their emotions, by asking appropriate questions and drawing out the concerns they have.” She points to research The Ken Blanchard Companies has conducted that details how people go through five predictable stages of concern leaders can proactively plan for: Information, Personal, Implementation, Impact, and Refinement.
It all starts with addressing Information Concerns, says Halsey, with answering questions such as: What is the change? Why does it need to be done? Why can't we keep things the way they were?
“Very often, leaders launch into selling the change, forgetting that people are hearing about it for the first time. Leaders forget they have been working on this change for months and have already moved along the stages of concern personally. They forget they first had information concerns and then personal concerns. Instead, they jump right into implementation, thinking they will just share what everybody needs to do and that will be that. They think that, like them, everyone will be on board as it is such a good idea. You can probably guess how well that works—and it probably explains why 70% of change efforts are unsuccessful.”
Leaders need to take a more measured approach, says Halsey—especially in today’s overloaded world.
“We are all navigating through one of the most change-intensive work environments in most people’s memory, and here you are wanting to layer an additional change on top. You have to give people a chance to unscrew their lid and get their emotions out so that there's room for you to put something in.
“This step helps to draw out concerns that might be derailing people from adopting the change. And by the way—it also can release some of people’s best ideas. It gives them a way to voice their concerns, voice their ideas, and voice their vision. It enrols and energises people by involving them in the change instead of having the change done to them.”
Halsey offers some advice to leaders at all five stages.
“At the Information Concerns stage, it’s important for a leader to close the gap between what they know and what others need to know about the change. This is where you share all of the thinking about what hasn’t been working well and why it needs to change, and a plan for where we are going as an organisation.
“At the Personal Concerns stage, people are trying to figure out how this change will impact them individually. What will I gain? What will I lose? At this stage, a leader must provide a psychologically safe environment for people to get their questions answered. We are all different and have different work situations that might be upended with the proposed change. Don’t shy away from personal concerns. Let people get them out.”
When it comes to Implementation Concerns, Halsey has a favourite quote that guides her thinking.
“I love the quote ‘People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.’ With implementation, you want to make sure you include the voices of everyone who's being impacted by the change. Involve others to help you decide what needs to be done by when, who will be our teachers, and who are the people who have adopted the change and could be mentors to others.”
With Impact Concerns, Halsey reminds leaders to help people prioritise the change.
“When people have 63 different things competing for their attention, it’s important for leaders to keep the change effort top of mind by sharing results and success stories. When you share the impact of the adoption of the change, it’s going to motivate people to sustain the energy needed to keep working at it.
“People are always deciding in their brain, ‘Should I prioritise this or that?’ If I'm not hearing anything about the change, obviously it's not important. But if I hear we're reducing the time of a certain process or we’re increasing customer satisfaction scores, I know this is a priority.
“One of my clients keeps their change initiative moving along with a fun change-focused newsletter they created. They're doing a new ERP software implementation and they're sharing with everybody the little pockets of success—and it’s not just, ‘Woo, look at the number’—it’s a person, a peer of yours, who is using the change to great benefit. That has such a big impact. Congratulations!”
Last, Halsey identifies Refinement Concerns. This is answering the question: How do we keep this going and how can we make this better?
“At this stage, you want to spotlight and celebrate people's success and then help them take it up a notch. How can we refine this? This really shows how much you value your people. When people feel appreciated, they feel like they are important to the team and the organisation. This is a chance to keep leveraging what you’ve learned and building a community of practice. This is about accelerating change adoption by being real about what's working and what's not, so that we can make everything work the way people need it to work.”
Leading Successful Change
As Halsey considers one overriding thought that would help improve change success statistics, the concept that comes to mind immediately is high involvement.
“Get everybody involved much earlier. I think high involvement change is absolutely critical right now. Give people a voice in the change. Show them that you, their leader, care enough to invite them into the process, address their concerns, and share their brilliance.
“I can’t stress enough that the people who are going to be impacted by a change should be involved in planning and implementing the change. High involvement leadership strategies will increase the odds that you will be successful with your change, because people are helping you win instead of sitting back and seeing how things turn out. It’s not your plan—it’s their plan in action.”
About the author:
David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review