Company Z, a financial services firm with nearly $100 million in annual revenue, was changing their business model. It was a big change-;they were dumping one entire business unit and launching a new one. The team was none too happy about it. Some were fearful because they were employed in the now defunct business unit, and they’d have to learn new skills.

Not everyone in your organization is going to be totally psyched and eager to celebrate change. And the biggest challenge with change is-;drum roll please-;resistance. But what most leaders miss is that resistance is simply the first stop on the quest for the holy grail: a new standard.

From my work with hundreds of successful entrepreneurs, top executives, and political leaders

I’ve learned that organizational change is a continuum. It’s predictable, it can be guided, and here is how it works.

Your brain on change

First people start with resistance. Why? Because thanks to Rodger Bailey’s terrific research on Meta Programs (I’ll cover this in a future blog), we know that 65 percent of Americans can only tolerate change if it is couched in a specific context. The context is “Sameness with Exception.” This means the “change” is really just an improvement to what we are already doing; the bad stuff is being removed, and good stuff is being increased. Seriously-;this is the best way to package a change message. And don’t use the “c” word (change); say “growth” instead.

Jessica, the CEO of Company Z, did a masterful job managing their organizational change.

Here’s how she did it.

First, we trained the entire company on how change works and how to expect their brains and emotions to react. Jessica’s assistant had the CCA Organizational Change Adoption Path above expanded, printed, and posted in the conference room so everyone could openly acknowledge where they were in the process. 

Next, we laid out a plan to help the team navigate the five phases:

1. Resistance. This phase can pass fairly quickly when the leader stresses the “same with exception” nature of the change. That’s exactly what she did.

2. Mockery. I love this phase! It means people now have some emotional investment. They are past disinterest and resistance and are telling us what they object to. Great-;now we can engage them-;which is what we did at Company Z. We acknowledged the detractors’ concerns and asked for their help in fixing what they found “lame” in the CEO’s growth plan. We asked for their agreement to follow the plan once their fixes were made. This led to….

3. Usefulness. The “Mockers” worked through the revised plan with Jessica and with us, and some even-;gasp-;acknowledged what parts of it were useful. A few “Mockers” insisted on a few more edits, and the CEO agreed to about half of them with, again, the agreement of their support.

This is the most important step, because when something is truly useful, the vast majority of people will use it again, leading to….

4. Habitual. Now we’ve got the team members using something repeatedly, almost without thinking. Which leads us to….

5. New Standard. The change has now been integrated into their overall behavior, resulting in a new behavioral standard.

This process can take months to years, based on how the leader manages the Organizational Change Adoption Path. With our client above, the change took seven months to filter through all remote offices. Impressive. 

Jessica did a formidable job in managing and capitalizing on the social change that was happening throughout the business change. She demonstrated brilliant leadership.

What organizational, and thus emotional, changes is your company going through? Try the above process, and let me know how it works for you.

Published on: Jan 28, 2014