Greek philosopher, Heraclitus famously said, “The only constant is change.”
If you’re a leader, you know this to be true, and you’re likely facing opportunities to inspire changes in behavior among your team at this very moment.
How do you know when it’s time to change? Every leader has a proverbial dashboard with meters and dials to tell them when it’s time to change. Every leader’s “change-o-meter” includes the following dials:
- Data, feedback, or scores are below expectation or goals
- Financials: Profit and loss
- Market share: Competition success
- Customer satisfaction: Feedback, reviews, and scores
- Employee engagement: Feedback, reviews, and scores
- Compromised standards
- Mistakes and problems prevalent throughout the team’s performance
Identifying the need for change may be the first step in the change process. However, for change efforts to be successful, the first action leaders must take is to establish why change is needed.
Establishing Why Change is Needed
To inspire change, leaders need to creatively communicate why it’s necessary. If you cannot explain why we have to evolve, then you will never be able to get someone to evolve.
Communicate why before communicating what. Create a sense of urgency within the team before stating the desired outcome.
The most successful leaders of the past thousand years and the most successful leaders of the next thousand years share one common critical capability. They’re great storytellers. In order to create a widespread understanding of the need for change, leaders have to not only pique interest but also connect with people’s emotions.
Emotions drive the decision to change behavior while also providing the energy for people to take action. In other words, tapping into people’s emotions move people to move.
Five Keys to Crafting a Compelling Story
Here are some specific steps to build our compelling change story. First, we must keep it clear and concise (five sentences or fewer). Our change story should be comprised of five sentences. The function of each sentence is as follows:
- Sentence 1: Key fact, score, or result
- Sentence 2: Define what this means for the business and people
- Sentence 3: Be clear about what this could lead to
- Sentence 4: Provide an example of a similar situation and potential outcome
- Sentence 5: Appeal to your employees’ emotions
Once the compelling story and case for change is crafted, the next step is to begin telling the story strategically. Whom, among our team members, should be the first to hear the story?
A leader is not necessarily defined by having a title or management position. Many of an organization’s leaders are found at the line level—those who possess no title yet have tremendous influence within the workgroup, often more so than the manager. To successfully implement change, leaders must identify the informal leaders, those who influence their group or team and get them to understand and support the reason for the change.
Prior to implementing any change, focus on these individuals and get their buy-in. Without the informal leaders’ buy-in, it will be difficult to overcome the old habits and thinking within the group.
Invite your informal leaders, or in other words, your up and comers whom you know are as committed to their own personal and professional growth as they are to the organization’s success.
Once you’re most committed, informal leaders are aligned, continue telling your story. Share your story at meetings, during one-on-one conversations, via email, social media, and in informal conversations.
One caveat to remember, at this stage in the game, is that we’re merely telling the story of what the situation is and why change is needed. We don’t begin sharing details on the desired destination, nor do we share details of how we’ll get there. We only need to share what the situation is and why it must change.
Research from McKinsey and Company shows that 70% of all change initiatives fail. A big reason for this is because leaders overlook the need to invite others to create the change.
Building Your Change Team
With a team of people, leaders have the resources to analyze various processes and gather any necessary information to help meet the organization’s goals. High-performing teams allow leaders and informal, up and coming leaders to gain varied opinions and input, share the workload, and implement change faster and more effectively.
Ideal change team members could be any of the following:
- Your own leaders (managers and executives)
- Frontline employees
As you consider whom you’ll invite to join your change team, seek out people with:
- Skills and knowledge that align with the situation
- Leadership ability
- Management ability
- Credibility in the organization
- Relevant connections and relationships internally and/or externally
- Formal authority
Once you’ve made your invitations and have your change team in place, here are some tips for effectively leading them in the change effort:
- Establish expectations and ask permission to hold members accountable
- Set the ground rules and schedule of interactions
- Define roles and let people know who is doing what. Not every person on the team is given the same level of importance but will be given the same level of respect
- Make sure everyone is heard
- Ensure meetings are effective
- Build a sense of friendship and commonality among the team. Think about starting off with some type of teamwork activity and lesson
Having a team merely for the sake of having a team is pointless. They must be engaged in helping you make changes and shift perspectives. You will need to choose each member of your team strategically. Keep in mind that each member needs to serve a particular purpose or play a specific role.
Have at least one member assigned to each of the following roles:
- Research and analysis
- Devil’s advocate
- Frontline representation
Change is hard for most people. However, if you are strategic in crafting your story and your change team, you’ll be on your way to successfully lead change.