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Avoiding pitfalls

Why is change so difficult? Changes in technology and the economy challenge us to shift how we work. Yet, we flounder in our responses.

Rarely, are the primary problems with change technical in nature. Rather, the problems arise in how people react to the changes. New technologies cause shifts in work processes and opportunities. Consequently, they challenge people to change what they do and how they do it.

Whether in our businesses, communities, or politics, people resist change. Change, even seemingly benign, desirable change, prompts worry. What will happen? Will I win or lose? Will someone else get ahead? All of these perfectly reasonable concerns swamp our thought processes. Our fearful brains hunker down. We lose our best thinking.

When I ask teams why so many change efforts fail, they identify many causes.  “People want to protect their turf.”  “Some employees fear that they won’t be able to satisfy the new work requirements.”  “It just seems like a power play by ambitious managers to get more out of employees so that the managers look good and advance.”  “Nobody bothered to ask the people who actually do the jobs.  We could have told you that the changes wouldn’t work.”

As the saying goes, the only person who likes to “be changed” is a wet baby.  Yet, under the right circumstances, we all makes changes and make them willingly.

Think, for example, about the smartphone explosion.  Billions of people have adopted mobile devices.  They paid hundreds of dollars for new equipment and taught themselves.  Why?  Because it is fun and it gives them more control over when and how they communicate and do work.

So, let’s look at what you can do to bring about successful change with your team.

  • Engage employees to develop the plan.

Many managers proudly announce a new goal and expect workers to line up behind it.  Such change efforts fail before they get out of the gates.

Your first task is to invite employees to participate at the very beginning.  Link them into setting the organization’s agenda and the objectives.

  • Tap what they hope to accomplish.

Some business owners and managers take a top-down approach to change because they don’t trust that their employees share similar objectives.  In reality, all employees, even the most resistant ones, have a better side.

Try an experiment.  Ask employees what their hopes are and why they are important to them.  Many CEOs and team leaders have joyfully discovered that their employees are on the same page with them.  When you connect with what’s important to people, they charge up the organization themselves rather than draining the leader’s battery.

  • Offer easy, low-risk ways to play.

Even adults like to play.  It’s a fun way to try new skills and pursue new opportunities.

When we built the company that became E*Trade, we invited our marketing partners and early customers to do shadow stock trades with play portfolios that they managed themselves.  After gaining confidence in their use of the tools, they eagerly helped us grow the business.

Structure low-risk opportunities for employees to explore new concepts and experiment with new approaches.  As the E*Trade and smartphone examples highlight, people particularly like changes that give them a feeling of being in charge.  How can you liberate the energy and talent of your employees to take responsibility for their work?

  • Share what you learn.

Have you ever noticed how deadly quiet corporate presentations are?  In contrast, isn’t it amazing how the discussions buzz in the hallways during breaks?  Wouldn’t it be great to draw upon that energy?

Try the “Open Space” concept Harrison Owen developed to get meeting participants to organize issues and ideas.  Ask people to write key issues or opportunities on index cards and post them into topical areas on the wall.  Other participants write ideas or suggestions and post them under the topics.  Based on the responses, the group identifies meeting locations and times for interested people to gather in small groups and discuss the issues and potential solutions.  Each small group reports what it learned.

  • Celebrate small wins to build bigger successes.

Momentum is the key to change.  Think together about actions that will help you gain some early wins.  These will attract energy and interest to keep the process rolling.  Nurture your culture of change and thrive.

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