“The only thing that is constant is change.”
If change is so constant, why do we suck at change management so badly? Right now around the country, change initiatives are failing by the dozen. A few of these initiatives fail because they are ill conceived notions. A few fail because they’re poorly planned.
Most fail because of execution. The idea is good. The plan is good. And, somehow, the change just doesn’t happen.
With a good idea and even a half-decent plan, it stands to reason, a change initiative should succeed. So what happens in the execution to scuttle a change effort?
FRICTION. MENTAL FRICTION.
“Here we go again.”
“This’ll never work.”
“I don’t want to.”
“We’ve always done it this way.”
“We tried that in 1983.”
When people say these things, it’s an expression of the fear of uncertainty. We’ve all got that fear. The difference between those of us who resist change and those of us who charge ahead is how we manage that fear, and how we approach the thinking part of the change management puzzle.
CHANGE MANAGEMENT IS FEAR MANAGEMENT
As leaders of change, it’s our job to support people to embrace what scares them. It’s up to us to help them respond healthfully and think constructively in response to uncertainty — so they can manage their fear and perform.
Change management is not about battering people into submission, and it’s not about coddling them and allowing them to let fear rule the day.
The people side of change management is about setting expectations, and holding consistent and high standards with compassion.
So, here’s a simple tool you can employ to help guide people through a high-performance change execution.
I call it…
THE KITE PRINCIPLE OF CHANGE MANAGEMENT
The simple kite is a very resilient operator. It can fly in a wide range of wind speeds. It can weather the gusts. If the wind switches, it shifts. Quick, easy, the kite doesn’t complain. And it twitches and wobbles only momentarily before regaining its equilibrium.
A lot people think that the purpose of a kite string is to keep the kite from flying away. Nope. If the kite had no string, then even in ideal wind conditions, it wouldn’t fly at all. If the string breaks, the kite falls.
The purpose of the string is to anchor the kite to make flight possible.
It’s this anchor point that allows the kite to keep its head in the winds of change. It permits the kite to make its quick shifts, to bob and weave. The anchor point gives it the ability to maintain an attitude of flight whatever happens.
So what can we learn from the simple kite about change management?
LEADING CHANGE TIP
Don’t tell people only what will change. Change arouses fear and anxiety. And the fear of uncertainty can interfere with people’s equilibrium and their productivity.
Tell people also what will stay the same. When you tell people about what they can count on, you quiet some of those alarm bells. The constant that you tell them about can already be obvious and still be effective for helping people face the change. There’s nothing that’s too obvious that it goes without saying.
Telling people what will stay the same — what’s dependable — gives them that kite-string anchor-point that allows them to maintain an attitude of flight.
“Even with all the change we’re going through, I’m going to remain your direct supervisor.”
“Even though we are going through a major reorganization, our mission, vision, and values will not change. We’ll continue to strive for the same culture of transparency we have now. You’ll continue to do the same job you do now, and the company will be able to support you better in your role.”
NOTHING IS TOO OBVIOUS
Nothing is too obvious because the Kite Principle is not necessarily about telling people things they don’t know. It’s not just about the information. It’s also simply about the neuro-chemical response to change, and managing that brain chemistry.
“Hey folks, we’re changing things.” Boom. The brain is flooded with the stress chemical cortisol. Performance declines.
Tell people what anchor they can count on. You can even tell them, “The sun will rise in the morning, and gravity will remain constant. And, you will have the same ergonomic chair to sit in tomorrow and the day after that.”
Hearing even these painfully obvious things can help to reduce cortisol levels and improve performance.
So, next time you announce a change — no matter how small — also announce the constants. Thanks to this little-known secret of change management, you’ll hear fewer objections. Fewer people will drag their feet. Your change executors will draw strength from that anchor, and it’ll be the best executed change initiative you’ve ever been a part of.____________