As so many industries are beginning the long challenge of recovering from the pandemic, organizational change seems to be happening everywhere. The first issue many organizations must deal with when planning a change is finding an effective leadership approach that encourages large numbers of people to buy into a change at the same time. What most leaders don’t understand is that change will not succeed when:
- Top executives make all the decisions behind closed doors,
- They announce the change in an all-company meeting, and
- Everyone is expected to immediately get on board.
The best way to initiate change is to involve as many people as possible in the change process. Why? Our research shows that when you invite your people to participate in a change initiative, they will be much more likely to embrace the change and to influence their coworkers to participate. This high involvement, collaborative approach that involves all parties is far more effective than the minimal involvement, top-down strategy—which, according to Gartner Research, is still used by more than 80 percent of organizations. Top-down change typically results in short-term compliance, slower implementation, and marginal results. But involving people at all levels of an organization in the change results in faster implementation, increased commitment to the change, and more sustainable results.
When change initiatives go well, they improve innovation, creativity, productivity, engagement, and employee retention. When they don’t go well, it’s a waste of time, energy, and resources—and company morale plummets.
Contrary to what some believe, people don’t actually resist change. They resist being controlled. High involvement in the change process by those who will be impacted by the change lessens their feelings of being controlled and builds momentum for the needed change.
Leaders working with people during a high involvement change process must anticipate and manage the five stages of concern people are likely to go through: Information (What is the change about?), Personal (How will the change affect me?), Implementation (How is this change going to work?), Impact (Is the change worth our effort?), and Refinement (Are we trusted to lead the change going forward?).
Change leaders who are effective at addressing these five stages of concern can often minimize or resolve these concerns. When you use a series of change leadership strategies to create an inspiring vision for your people, build a clear plan, show proof the change is working, and ultimately allow people to lead the change, your organization will be more successful at navigating the process of change.
- Frame the case for change/create an inspiring vision (Information/Personal concerns)
In order to frame a compelling case for change, leaders need to first describe the gap between what is and what could be. When leaders paint an inspiring vision—a picture of the future where people can see themselves succeeding—people will have fewer personal concerns and be more likely to support the change.
2. Build the change plan and infrastructure (Personal/Implementation concerns)
High involvement change leaders work with people to uncover obstacles to implementation and create a realistic change plan. When they get to collaborate this way, people feel better about the change because they have some influence on successfully implementing it.
3. Strengthen the change (Implementation/Impact concerns)
This is where leaders share information, stories, and data to prove the change is working. They model the mindset and behaviors they expect from others and have discussions with anyone who remains resistant to the change to ensure that everyone is accountable for implementing the change.
4. Entrust the change leadership to others (Impact/Refinement concerns)
Once people’s concerns about the success of the change are taken care of, leaders can begin to rely on their people to help lead the change. Daily responsibilities can be delegated to others while the leader remains available for support if problems arise.
I’ve been known to say that great leaders treat their people as their business partners. High involvement change leadership is a perfect example of this. When leaders involve their people in making important decisions throughout the change process, their people feel respected—and respect leads to trust. When your people truly trust you as their leader, they will want to do their best work to ensure the success of your organization’s change initiative.