You’re a leader with a big initiative. You need to implement significant change in your team, department or organization. You believe the change will be good for the company and for the individual team players affected. It appears to be a win/win situation. You roll out your initiative and, initially at least, it’s met with great response.
A quarter passes and followers claim to be excited, but milestones are missed. The team seems to be giving lip service and telling you what they think you want to hear. The problem could be a number of things. It could be that they don’t believe the change will be good, but they don’t trust that their input will be met favorably. In many cases, it’s fear.
A basic principle of psychology is that people are hedonistic. They move toward pleasure and away from pain. They tend to stay where they experience the greater amount of pleasure, in their comfort zone. Any new direction or change often is met with anxiety and fear of the unknown or fear of possible failure and embarrassment. Psychologists and experts refer to the act of keeping things the same as “homeostasis.” People work toward keeping things the same because it’s more comfortable.
Any change initiative should be handled like a classic sales situation and presented with assurances of what’s in it for the followers. Keep communication open and allot time for followers to present their concerns. Just as in other sales situations, handle objections by overcoming myths and minimizing or putting real and valid concerns into perspective.
Some leaders don’t want open discussion regarding change because they fear the situation will get out of hand or that it will embolden followers against the change initiative. In reality, followers will talk anyway, and some will use the grapevine to push their anti-change initiatives. Getting everything on the table gives a leader more control and an opportunity to separate myth from reality and sell the vision, outcome or initiative. When people have real concerns that aren’t addressed, they will back away from the initiative, slow down or drag their feet.
You can’t change people’s minds for them; we can only change our own minds. As a leader, however, you can create the environment for others to change their minds.
I have taught sales people and leaders how to create that environment. The way to do that is to get people talking and keep them talking. As they speak, they will think and talk the situation through. They will tell you what they are thinking relative to the change initiative.
To move individuals to change their minds, ask open-ended questions to get them to think about what they just said. When they respond, ask another open-ended question. Keep going until you move them in the direction you need them to go. Just telling people what they should be thinking causes defense mechanisms to pop up and further entrenches them.
This process works very well with individuals and groups. Even though you may be speaking to one individual within a group, others in the group will be listening and thinking things through for themselves. Because they don’t have as much emotion invested as the initial holdout, they often come around first and then join in to help sell the others.