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How to Become an Agent for Change

Few leaders know how to manage change at their company. Learn how to become one of the few.
It's not always easy to get everyone to follow change within your company.
Zack Johnson, the CEO of Syndio Social

Zack Johnson, the CEO of Syndio Social

Does your business need a change? That's easier said than done. Take it from Zach Johnson, whose Chicago-based change consultancy, Syndio Social, has worked with European Union politicians, Procter & Gamble executives, and smaller companies like Vanberg and DeWulf, a Cooperstown, N.Y. boutique beer importer. There's one thing Johnson has definitely learned: Few leaders know how to manage change at their company. It's a complicated and tricky situation.

"Managers at the top just snap their fingers and say, 'I want you to be more innovative! Or, Everybody needs to be using this new tool to save us time,'" Johnson says. "Then, they're surprised when, six months later, that none of their changes took hold."

Inc.com's Abram Brown spoke with Johnson, who shared his top three lessons on how to make change take hold at work.

1. Market your message of change

When you want to sell to different market groups, you develop separate campaigns, right? This solution can work in your company, too.

The folks in packaging are literally speaking a different language from the people down the hall in research and development. So, when you're trying to get people to accept the change, you need to present it differently to each internal group. You should tailor your message as much as possible.

If the design department loves high tech stuff, then make a short YouTube clip and e-mail it to them. And maybe it would be best to keep it really cut and dry for human resources. So, just send them a memo.

2. Set your concrete goals and dates

Innovation will be just like any other project. People get really excited by it at the start, and then distracted by whatever arrives on their desk. You need to follow up constantly with your team and set the key milestones—preferably in writing someplace where your team can refer to them.

For example, let's say you want to introduce a new tool. The first step: Ask yourself, "How many employees should be using this, and by what date?" Distribute the answer to your team, then track the implementation. You can monitor by week, month, or however you'd like.

And no, you can't monitor too much. If your team doesn't reach the first goal, then you can forget about anything past that.

3. Find your business' leaders

If change is coming from the top, then it should trickle down from you to the next rung of leaders at your company. Before you jump to any conclusions about who's in that sphere, you should gather some data. No data. No decisions.

Use a survey. Avoid asking employees about their job. That'll make them become defensive. Instead, ask your employees to discuss their interactions with other people. Use questions like these: Who do you turn to for advice? Who's the first person you approach when you're having a bad day? Who do people follow, even unintentionally? Never use a question like, who's bad at leading people?

Your employees won't mind taking the survey that much, since they get to praise people who they feel deserve it. They don't have to be bluntly negative.

You'll end up discovering the leaders. They're the ones everyone seeks out in crises, and their names appear frequently throughout those surveys. You may also realize that just because you've put someone in a leadership role, they're not necessarily skilled at inspiring others.

But you'll know who can help change your business.

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