Friday, July 10, 2009

Eight Tools Leaders Use to Inspire Change

Changej0078824jepg314x235 There are many changes affecting employees these days. Your job as a leader is to help your team commit to the changes needed to make it through these tough times. An important step to gaining buy-in to change is to inspire your team members. Here are eight tactics you can take that increase the chances that your inspiration has the intended effect:

  1. Communicate a sense of urgency… emotionally. Good leaders show employees the data that proves the need for change. Expansive leaders also inspire them emotionally. You need an ocean of emotion to generate the motion. For example, Dan Cohen tells the story of the procurement manager whose project team discovered that the company purchased 424 different types of gloves when only three types were actually needed. To communicate rationally and emotionally, the manager collected all 424 gloves, put a price on each, and stacked them in the boardroom so that senior leadership could see and feel the cost of this inefficiency. (1) People will feel a sense of urgency when you communicate data emotionally.
  2. Experiment with small change before rolling out major initiatives. One of the decision-making traps leaders fall into when implementing a change is assuming that the change needs to be rolled out as a major change initiative. Yet, nature and science teach us that experimentation is king of this classroom called life. So, whenever possible conduct your own small experiments before rolling out any initiative. Experimentation provides the opportunity to learn from each successive iteration. As each experiment gets you closer to the desired outcome, your team members will feel more inspired to adapt their behaviors to support the change.
  3. Celebrate team members who remove obstacles to change. That which gets rewarded gets repeated. As employees try new approaches, develop new ideas, and take small steps implementing the change, reinforce these actions. The most powerful communication is rewarding action. The more employees see the new behaviors consistent with the change being rewarded the more they will be inspired to the change. Employees will also feel inspired when they see evidence that small progress is being made and rewarded. Celebrating small wins inspires team members because it also sends the signal that management is paying attention. Place your attention on your intention by rewarding those who embrace change.
  4. Be the change you wish to see. This quotation from Gandhi reminds us that employees need to see words in action. They comply with what they hear, but they are inspired by what they see.
  5. Set realistic objectives and milestones. When I was at UCLA, I was a member of the Dean's “goals committee.” The Dean wanted us to set forth the strategies and tactics necessary to accomplish his vision -- for the UCLA School of Medicine to become the preeminent medical school in the world by the end of the decade. At the time, UCLA was ranked number eight or nine depending upon which survey you reviewed. The Dean's goal was so lofty that most of the committee members did not believe it was achievable. They therefore did not put forth a serious effort. They went through the motions by giving the Dean’s initiative lip service and very little hip (i.e., action) service.
  6. Estimate resources accurately. Employees have a specific capacity to handle change. Too much change overwhelms them. Yet, under stress, many organizations push one change after another without assessing the ability of the people to digest the change. One high-tech firm that I worked with had three major change initiatives affecting most of its employees at one time. The resources required to implement these changes were severely underestimated, while the capacity for people to absorb them were overestimated. I never could get senior management to understand this fact.
  7. Maintain motivation. Too many change initiatives begin with a grand kickoff meeting and fade because of decreasing communication and leadership visibility. If you want people to stay committed to change, keep communicating and making small victories visible.
  8. Be a meaning-making machine. The number one predictor of commitment is value. People only commit to that which they highly value. And what people value most are their values. Therefore, if you want to inspire people to buy into change, connect what they value to the change.

For example, when I was working in a Connecticut factory during my college days, my uncle Burt, who was the shop foreman, asked me to join him on the loading dock. As we marched past the lunchroom, I grabbed my long army coat knowing how cold it was going to be on the loading dock. As we stared at the big bins that lined the walls of the loading dock uncle Burt explained, "Dave, we have a delivery of new Kirsch rods arriving tomorrow. Tony will be installing them in the new school being built down the street. So, I need you to make room for the new rods by moving all of these old blinds from the front bins to the back.”

Do you see what uncle Burt did here? By telling me why I needed to change from working in a warm factory to the cold loading dock, my commitment level (at least subconsciously) went up. I wasn't just moving old blinds around; I was building a school! (Okay, maybe I'm getting a bit carried away here. But you get the idea.) This is why John Hammergren, CEO of McKesson (a US-based healthcare company), pointed out during their change initiative that every employee was, or would someday be, a patient in the healthcare system. This larger purpose made a big difference. When you connect values to the direction, you create power behind the purpose.

These are eight ways to inspire your team to change. Let me know which ones work for you.

Keep eXpanding,

1. Dan Cohen, Building Strategic Agility, American Management Association - MWORLD, 2006, page 13.


Anonymous said...

Very good ideas, Dave.

Dave Jensen said...

Thank you, let me know how they work for you.

Ben said...

Hi, some of your suggestions are common sense and some are excellent. I am going to start these small changes in our team (application development team). Will let you know how it went.

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Hi Ben,

I look forward to hearing about your progress and which of the 8 ideas you find most effective.


Sarah Antonelli said...


I just happened across your Blog this morning. I was preparing myself to give a speech to a group of Store Managers and was looking for a few extra pointers on how to lead people to buy-in to the concept of change.

Now I'm like a crazy lady reading through all your articles. :) You write very well and provide great information that's easy to absorb, especially for a newbie, like me!

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