Three Approaches to Leading Change

three-approaches-to-leading-change FirstPerson has been in a state of change for a long time. It’s in our DNA. And has been since we launched 20 years ago. Our growth is a result of continuous innovation and improvement.

As we celebrate 20 years, we firmly believe that exponential growth is still within reach. We have a goal and a comprehensive plan to get there, starting with a tenacious examination of every process. We must uncover better ways to do what we already do well. But our story is not unique. Many companies today are transforming before our eyes, and at an accelerating pace. Our program for RESOLVE 2018 shined a spotlight on this need for change, and how each of us as leaders can guide our organizations through transformation and into the future. It’s not easy. But it’s important and necessary for the longevity of our businesses. Each one of us must be driven to continually transform our businesses  by way of innovation.

Three approaches to change

I’ve reflected on the human dynamics of change, and how to lead as we tackle an ambitious goal. There’s a common belief that most people resist change for a variety of reasons – loss of status or job security, fear of the unknown, and organizational politics to name a few. And yet, there’s support to show that people don’t naturally resist change. We change all the time when something new appeals to our personal benefit. My research has uncovered some approaches to leading change in the workplace that everyone can embrace. #1 People change when they believe it is in their best interest to do so. Robert Tanner, a contemporary management consultant, has some common-sense advice on how to lead change. First, help your employees answer these questions:
  • Will I gain new knowledge or skills?
  • Will I be better able to meet customer needs?
  • Will it be easier for me to do my work?
#2 People must have a vision for how great things will be when that change occurs. Mid-century economist and philosopher Ludwig von Mises, who became a visiting professor at NYU after emigrating to the United States in 1940, was a student of human choice and action, also known as praxeology. Pretty interesting and intuitive stuff. Here’s what he would tell us. The human action model says that three conditions are necessary for a person to take action.
  • You must be uncomfortable with your current state.
  • You must have a vision for a better state.
  • You must believe that taking a specific action will move you to that better state.
Otherwise stated, if teams aren’t willing to take desired action, it’s because one of the three conditions are not being met. Leaders must carefully construct messaging to articulate the current reality, describe a better scenario, and outline specific steps that get us there. Say you want to grow your company from $11 million to $25 million. You look at your product or service offerings. You look at your internal processes. You examine P/L data, balance sheets, and budgets to create financial projections for steady, incremental growth. And then you break it down into a strategic plan with specific objectives that will drive action. Indeed, drive the behavior of your teams. #3 People want to be involved with the change. And you want them to be as well. Tanner’s advice also asks you, as the employer, to answer these questions:
  • How do our employees feel about the change effort being proposed?
  • How is this change beneficial to our employees as a team? As individuals?
  • How do our employees recommend the change occur?

In Summary

Your team will not automatically resist change, because it is their human nature to do so. It’s because they don’t see the personal benefit in the change you propose. Behind this is your team’s willingness to change behaviors, including catching and trusting a somewhat aspirational vision, and believing that it is possible. It also includes approaching the deliverables differently from “business as usual,” and being able to explore, imagine. Promoting your team’s curiosity can lead to limitless possibilities. The key is to engage your team. As you build the “better state,” get everyone on board by first giving them a framework, and then asking their brutally honest opinions. Move ahead from there, taking their advice to heart. When you make time for a change conversation to create a collective journey, it can go well. Originally published on

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