3 Ways to Implement Change
Recently I wrote about companies that end up with a "Museum of Good Ideas." The problem many organizations face is not that they lack for great, transformational ideas--but that they can't get those ideas to catch fire and develop momentum.
One of my friends, Tricia Emerson, co-wrote the book on overcoming one of the core obstacles to idea implementation: the resistance to change. In The Change Book, she outlined some great ways to get companies of any size to accelerate the pace of change.
Many companies, she argues, make big changes in technology, organization charts, compensation, marketing plans and other initiatives, yet just send an email and expect the organization to change automatically. She and her co-author, Mary Stewart, argue that successful change requires the following must-have ingredients.
Get Executive Management on Message
Management communications should be short, clear and consistent when explaining the reason for the change. Slick, multi-page program overview documents are not nearly as compelling as a direct statement, delivered with conviction. And there can't be any light showing among the management team on this change: You need a united front to get employee buy-in.
Position the Change
If you want acceptance of a new idea, position it in such a way that busy people with competing priorities can process quickly. Here are three possible positions:
- Force the change by eliminating the old system. This can be aggressive, but allowing parallel systems for a long transition doesn't ease the pain; it just delays it.
- Create context choices that favor the change. People need a framework to evaluate against. A great example comes from Williams-Sonoma, which developed a bread machine with a roughly $200 price point--the first of its kind. It didn't sell too well, however, until they put out a roughly $300 bread machine. Then the $200 versions flew off the shelves, because people had something to compare it to--they needed a frame of reference to determine if it was a good value.
- Frame consequences in a negative context. Show the alternative to change as being even scarier. We know that people need to understand the upside to be interested, but the downside in order to change.
Make It Safe & Celebrate Success
There is a risk to making change with a certain draconian feel. You don't want to rob people of a positive experience; you just want to ensure you get results.
You create the positive experience when people feel that the implementation is controlled, the process was similar to other implementations, and that success gets celebrated at the key milestones, as well as in the end result. This is where project leadership and communication have the greatest impact.
Take a minute and think of the last year in your company. Consider technology, markets, pricing, people, organization charts, operating parameters and so on: How many changes did you make? If you are like the vast majority of companies in the U.S., you have a long list.
People are change-weary, yet these changes are often in response to a world that is changing even faster. If you want to continue to be ahead of the curve in your marketplace, becoming more effective and accelerating change will offer you a competitive advantage.