Is there a business leader anywhere who isn’t confronted with change management? Leading change successfully is a core leadership competency; it has become a business imperative. Yet how many leaders excel at this? Whether you are implementing new business processes or trying to get your team to embrace new technology, there is a fundamental obstacle all leaders face: “How do you get others to let go of their resistance to change?” This assumes that you, as the leader, fully believe in the change yourself.
When confronted with unsettling change, people tend to hold on to the status quo and become cynical. What can cause a tipping point where people begin to embrace change management versus dig in and resist it? Yes, “change models” provide a useful framework for guiding people through transitions, but what matters most is people’s resolve. Think about that for a moment. Without resiliency and the courage to adapt to new changes, applying theoretical change management models will have limited impact on people’s behavior. What leaders must do is help others become more determined to succeed.
I would like to offer three simple but powerful questions that leaders can use to challenge people’s reaction to change and strengthen their resolve. Each represents a choice both on a personal and organizational level.
Question #1: Will we be one of the 70% of organizations that fail or one of the 30% that succeeds at change?
Countless studies reveal that 70% of change efforts fail or fail to meet their intended outcomes. Large scale change efforts can be daunting and overly complex exerting a heavy toll on people and mismanaged business opportunities. By recognizing upfront that the vast majority of change efforts are unsuccessful, leaders and organization can do a reality check. They can clearly carve out what aspects of change to focus on and be authentic about the level of resolve and work needed to see change through. This inspires the organization to make their change effort one of the 30% that succeed.
Question #2: Will we be open to change and expand our capability to shape our future?
In Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, he discusses the concept of a “metanoic” organization. Senge explains that this type of organization continually expands its capacity to create its future; it is the meaningfulness of the experience people are drawn to – being part of something larger than themselves. This question presents alternatives most people truly desire; owning their future and creating a legacy.
Question #3: Will we acknowledge our fears and do what is necessary to implement the change?
Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, often talks about change management at the personal level. She says that everyone is afraid of something. In addition, she says that the natural instinct of any organization is to preserve the status quo – it is human nature. What distinguishes successful people is what they do in spite of their fears. This question makes people uncomfortable, which is exactly the point. We don’t learn things by always doing what we have done. When people “together” express what’s holding them back they begin to encourage one another to take risks and support each other in the process.
There you have it. Three powerful questions, three choices that challenge the obstacle of resistance to change and rally people to do what they haven’t done before. Every time I have used these questions to help facilitate change they elicit deep reflection and ignite conversations for possibility. This is how accountability and commitment for change get created. This is how an organization’s resolve gets strengthened.
Should leaders really take up the organization’s time with these questions when there are so many things to manage regarding any large scale change management initiative? Think of any significant personal change you have encountered. Until you had the resolve, that is, developed the fortitude to tackle the change, I suspect anything else you did to move things forward was met with limited success. It is the same for organizations. Until people are determined to make change work for them, most of the change activities organizations put in place will have minimal impact.
Using the fundamental questions described in this article will provide the perspective needed to successfully launch any change initiative.
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