How to Champion Change in a Complex and Uncertain Workplace

Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous.

That’s the world we’re all living in—the world we all must figure out how to lead through and navigate together as we head into 2021.

Since we face such an uncertain future, FirstPerson invited me to speak at RESOLVE Increments on Leading Through Change: Two Truths and a Lie.

“I have clients who are actually using this [VUCA acronym] internally and externally, to talk to their customers about what they’re facing and how they’re responding to it,” I told my Increments audience. “And we believe that all of these things are only going to increase in the future. And so, we have to be prepared and in front of it and ready to react.”

Here are some takeaways from my RESOLVE Increments presentation. To watch my talk in full and grab some helpful resources, get exclusive access here.

One important change. Many different reactions.

I engaged my audience with that classic game of two truths and a lie—challenging them to decide whether or not a series of statements were true. The first: Do we all have the same reaction to change? (Spoiler alert: We don’t.)

“The truth is we all accept change at a different pace, depending on what the change is. It’s very situational. The innovation curve is the perfect example of that. The person who may be the first to adopt a technology may be last to adopt a process because of how much it impacts them. And so we can’t make assumptions that people are going to move through the change curve at the same time or even in the same order.”

Uncertainty is certainly distressing.

The research is clear: your brain doesn’t enjoy the absence of certainty—and that’s often the case.

In today’s world, you don’t have a ton of certainty, and so, your brain struggles to fill in the gaps of what’s expected and what you can predict. It’s important that you give people certainty whenever you can, but it’s also important that you don’t hide from uncertainty and keep some factors of truth if you don’t know the whole story.

David Rock, a neuro leadership specialist, introduced the SCARF model that shows five elements that can lead to changes your brain actually likes; these are ingredients you always want to consider when it comes to change management.

Status – your relative importance to your peers

Certainty – your ability to predict what’s going to happen

Autonomy – your sense of control over what’s happening

Relatedness – how safe you feel in your interactions

Fairness – how fair you perceive things to be

Some stakeholders want a story—others want hard numbers.

You can’t win over every stakeholder with the same approach, so you need to think about a person’s needs in order to win them over. The good news is that organizations like yours have all kinds of tools at their disposal for understanding the personalities of individual employees, like:

DiSC Profile®

The Predictive Index

Gallup CliftonStrengths

“You also know a little bit about the folks that you’re working with and the things that aren’t as easily measured, more subjective information like: Does this individual usually like to have data, or do they like to hear more of a story, something that really hits them at the heart? More mental, or more emotional?

Personality profiles can start to predict that, but you can discover that information by observing them and asking questions.

People want frank conversations more than perfect PowerPoints.

While some believe that most of your communication efforts around a change should go to perfecting written artifacts like emails and newsletters, your employees want a more personal approach.

“The truth is people want two-way conversation. They want a personal chance to talk about and debate how this change is going to impact them.”

Don’t kill the message by choosing the wrong messenger.

It’s important for you to think through who delivers an important message—not just how you say it.

“People say when they hear org-wide high-level strategic messages, they’re comfortable hearing that from the CEO and the executive manager. But if it’s a personal message about what this change means to them, why they should care—that WIIFM that we always talk about, ‘what is in it for me?’—they want to hear that from their supervisor. It takes a two-way conversation to change people’s minds. 

“There’s not an email or a massive campaign that I’m aware of that has truly changed minds or behaviors like a conversation does. So that’s what we should be prioritizing—preparing supervisors to have those conversations and to feel comfortable delivering those messages in a way that makes people feel heard.”

Transformation is a process.

Change thought leader John P. Kotter says that “Transformation is a process, not an event.” Which means we have to keep encouraging, rewarding and helping people sustain those behaviors. It also means that executive sponsors need to be both active and visible to build support for the change. In fact, this is the top success factor in whether change management will prove successful.

The change sponsor has a very important role to play. They are the face of the effort. They are the cheerleader. They’re the ones helping clear barriers.

Other success factors include:

Dedicated change management resources

You wake up every day thinking about how the change will be successful.

Structured change management approach

Leverage the materials available on how to approach this from both a psychological and a structural standpoint.

Employee engagement and participation

When employees are involved in designing the solution, you don’t have to convince them after the fact. So get them engaged early on, so they can get the energy to sustain their commitment over the long term.

Frequent and open communication.

This means being open to changing your mind and being happy to hear resistance because that helps you understand what you can do to make the change better.

Integration and engagement with project management.

Project management is crucial because you have to meet your project milestones and ultimately be successful in your efforts.

Engagement with middle managers.

Executives and top-level management make strategies and plans but can become disconnected from how the work gets done and who it’s impacting.

“The middle managers know how it’s going to play out. They are right there helping make it happen, and so we have them involved in change. We can’t just talk over them, head straight to the line and not get them fully embedded and ingrained in what we’re doing so that they can give all the next-level answers needed in order for people to feel comfortable and supported with that new change.”

So, what now?

To watch Week Four of RESOLVE Increments, fill out the form below and gain exclusive access to the full replay and resources we shared throughout the session, including SHRM credits:

RESOLVE Increments returns April 29. While the exact details are still being shaped, you don’t want to miss out! Get early bird pricing here.

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