A company must be able to change if it wants to succeed. Yet, as many business leaders have discovered, change can be uncomfortable for employees. This is especially true of salespeople, for whom alterations can sometimes mean a temporary disruption in sales. And when they lose sales, morale drops-;along with the company’s revenue.
I’ve spent the last 15 years helping reorganize sales teams in bankrupt companies, with the goal of returning the firm to profitability. No matter how dire the need for change was in a company, and no matter how effectively management explained it, there were always employees who resisted. Here are five tips that will help you overcome this inevitable resistance and make big changes successfully.
- Identify the early adopters.
These are people on your team who understand the need for change and support it. To identify an early adopter, look at actions, not at words; if a person truly supports a new initiative or reorganization, you’ll see them proactively implementing the change and explaining its purpose to others.
- Capitalize on peer influence.
Place early adopters in leadership roles-;let them lead training sessions or conduct webcasts on the new process. An astute leader will rely on early adopters to help persuade others in this way, and will encourage them to openly share their thoughts on the change process with colleagues. Particularly if they are high-performing team members, the early adopters’ influence with the rest of your salespeople will help you move the change forward at a fast pace.
- Figure out who's on the fence.
Next, it’s important to determine which team members are fence-sitters. These employees don’t oppose change, but they don’t openly commit to it either. Fence-sitters can be difficult to spot, since they’ll often agree with you face-to-face but then not act on the change when the time comes. You can identify fence-sitters by looking for their characteristic wait-and-see approach; they want proof before they change the way they work.
- Convert your fence-sitters:
Fence-sitters require special attention: if neglected, they can move into the next category of employee we’ll discuss: hardcore resisters. To move them off the fence and onto your side, have your fence-sitters work with early adopters in training sessions on the new process. You can also place them on special teams whose task is to identify and fix any problem they uncover in the new process.
- Remove hardcore resisters.
Unlike early adopters and fence-sitters, hardcore resisters dislike the change, openly share their objections with others, and may resort to subterfuge to undermine management’s decisions. This can be especially problematic when the resister is a top performer on the sales team-;someone who likely has considerable influence over others. If you have a high-performing resister who continues to criticize the change even after you’ve explained the reasoning behind it and offered your support, you must take swift and decisive action. The resister must be moved off the team-;the damage they will do to everyone’s morale is not worth retaining them. This might seem like an extreme step, but it will show that you are a strong leader who’s fully committed to the plan.
Taking these five steps during the change process will boost morale, increase the likelihood of lasting organizational transformation, and show everyone on your sales team that their leader is in charge and committed to the change.