Author and change expert Curtis Bateman tells us how to turn it into opportunity
Leaders like to have all the answers, and when they don’t, that prevents them from engaging in a dialogue with their employees. That can be a particularly different problem during a period of change implementation. What they should do in such a circumstance is make a list of questions that might come up that they can’t answer at that time but that they can discuss with their teams.
“Own it,” says Curtis Bateman, one of the co-authors of Change: How to Turn Uncertainty into Opportunity. “There are some things I know about the change, there are some things I don’t know, and perhaps we’re going to figure them out together and arrive at better answers than any one of us might get on our own.”
Engaging in that dialogue not only alleviates some of the pressure on the leaders, but it also gives the people affected by the change the chance to play a role in implementing it.
“The resistance goes down, the engagement goes up,” Bateman said..
That gives the initiative a greater chance of success, and it helps things move along faster. The trick is, it’s tough for leaders to let go like that.
The Change Model
Most of us have negative experiences with change, especially at work. This is because of – and probably a contributor to – the fact that 70-75% of organizational change initiatives fail or don’t achieve the desired goals.
There’s a predictable pattern to this when organizations enter what Bateman calls the Change Model. The model measures results over time, and it contains four zones: status quo, disruption, adoption, and innovation. Inevitably, there will be a dip in the middle two zones. Change is going to disrupt things, as that’s just a fact of life, and it’s the reason for the change in the first place. It’s going to take time for people to adjust and adopt the changes. The goal is to make that dip as shallow and as short as possible.
Leaders can do that by helping people prepare for the change before it begins. That decreases uncertainty and increases capability. While the disruption is occurring, leaders can clarify for employees on an individual basis what’s changing, why, and what it means for them. In the adoption zone, leaders then need to give people the space to discover, rather than treating missteps as a failure. In that process, everybody learns something, which helps them innovate.
“When we learn things we didn’t know about the change, it’s going to give us the opportunity to say, ‘What else could we do as a result of the change?’” Bateman said.
Positive results pile on from there, and managing change becomes a skill acquired through experience.
People Over Process
Recognizing where the organization is along the Change Model does not mean leaders should treat change implementation as a chart on the whiteboard, all patterns and processes. They need to focus on the people who control that process.
“Organizations hire people capable of doing the work in their organization,” Bateman said. “When we focus on change as a process, it tends to set aside people’s expertise.”
In other words, your people can figure out the process. That’s why you hired them. That’s the easy part. What leaders need to figure out is how to engage their employees so they are active and eager participants in the change. Once that is accomplished, “they’ll come up with all the right answers. They’ll figure out the way through it,” Bateman said.
Getting people engaged involves reading their reactions. Bateman and his co-authors identify five of the most common reactions to change: move, minimize, wait, resist, and quit.
People’s reactions might vary depending on the scope of change, but movers charge ahead. They don’t need a lot of motivation and can help motivate others, but they might have a steeper learning curve if they act rashly.
Minimizers want to change as little as possible, so they’ll identify an efficient route to the implementation, but they might miss out on some advantages the change brings.
Some take a wait-and-see approach, learning from the mistakes of others but moving more slowly through the adoption zone. Some people resist, which can reveal some crucial problems with the change but also impedes progress and impacts others.
Some resistors keep resisting to the point where they refuse to adopt the change. This version of quitting can highlight potential obstacles, but it’s a drag on the organization. Other people literally quit, leaving their jobs and freeing up resources but causing stress and uncertainty for everyone else.
For each, leaders need to ask themselves, “What information could I give them, or what conversations could I have to validate their reaction and engage them in that journey through the zone of disruption?” Bateman said.
A Repeatable Skill
Too often, leaders announce the change and just expect it will happen. That’s a big reason organizational change initiatives so often fail. Leaders need to make the case for the change: why, what, and how. They might need to do that for themselves first before they do it for their employees. After all, they’ve no doubt had negative experiences with change as well.
As leaders remain engaged and create a dialogue with the people who need to bring the change about and who will experience the consequences of it, they turn successful adoption into a skill. That skill can be built upon with each new change and drawn upon to better prepare people for the next one.
“It creates a whole different entry point and movement through the Change Model,” Bateman said.
The disruption and adoption zones are where most organizations struggle, but successful change that leads to better preparation helps minimize that dip in the middle. The cost of change is less, and leaders can then focus on maximizing the benefits. They can encourage employees to tell the story of the change and think about how to get the most out of it and wonder what else the organization might successfully change.
When leaders engage the hearts and minds of their people, the organization can master change. It starts with embracing the fact that they don’t have all the answers.
“It’s tough because leaders have a set of expectations they place on themselves,” he said, “but if they can get into that space where they feel like they can let those discussions happen without knowing the answers, really cool things can happen.”