As a first-time leader, it is critical that you understand that you can’t “make” a change happen. While you can initiate a change, and make it easier for employees to stomach and execute, you need them to do the work, change their behaviors, and, ultimately, make the change happen.
If you want them to do all that, you need to follow these steps to lower their resistance and gain their buy in:
1. Sell more than you tell
Understand that “telling” someone what’s going to happen is very different from “selling” them on the idea. I’m not suggesting that you use so called “high-pressure” sales tactics. By selling, I mean that you need to look for ways to get people emotionally committed to the change.
Paint and re-paint the vision for employees. Focus on the benefits, not the costs. And understand that people need time to adjust to and accept the change. Work to inspire buy-in rather than mere compliance.
2. Help people tune-in to WII-FM
Be prepared to answer the question on every employee’s mind: “What’s in it for me?” Dr. Aubrey Daniels, noted behavioral analyst and author of Bringing Out the Best in People, shares two great thoughts regarding change acceptance:
- “People don’t resist change; they resist being changed,” and
- “People don’t resist change if the change provides immediate positive consequences to them.”
Understand that even your best people are generally more willing to do things that bring personal benefit than they are to do things that benefit the organization. Take a pragmatic, not a cynical or negative, view of human nature, and see employees for who they are. Work to adjust your strategy to go with—not against—the natural drives of people you lead.
3. Work through the “head grapes”
Every organization has a grapevine—an unofficial communication channel that often moves faster than official ones. You might call the people who other people listen to, those who influence the grapevine, the “head grapes.”
Recognize that the head grapes on your team have more personal influence with some employees than you do. Leadership is about trust and relationship; it is not about position. So seek out the influencers among your employees, and work to gain their buy in first. That will make it easier to gain the rest of the group’s support.
4. Break the change into “bite-sized” pieces
While you can’t wait forever for people to get onboard, understand that people need both information and time to accept a change. Break big changes into small pieces that people are willing to accept more quickly. By moving in stages, you move your team forward with steady progress instead of periodic quantum leaps.
5. Build positive momentum
By breaking big changes into bite-sized pieces, you create positive momentum. An early failure or setback can create more resistance later, even if employees overcome the setback. However, by building a record of quick, early wins, you keep momentum going and keep people focused on success.
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