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To Change or Not to Change?

By Brad Federman

Published in HR Business Daily

Change is hard. Eighty-four percent of executives say their organization’s future success is highly dependent on innovation, but 80 percent believe their business will be disrupted by innovation. We know most new product innovations fail, startups have an abysmal success record, and more than 70 percent of strategic initiatives fail or fall short. Change is difficult, and we are not very good at it.


Change is the act of making something new and different. It could be incremental change, a small tweak to an existing process, disruptive technology, or anything in between. The significance or size of the change, while relevant, won’t help us with making the process easier because we all react to each change in our own way. Change is personal.


For too long, we have treated change as if it were a process to be managed. We have looked at it from a macro or organizational view. All organizational change, however, is the sum of individual changes. We have forgotten that for change to be successful across the organization, it must be successful at the individual level.


A leader’s role in any larger change effort is to translate the transition into smaller, concrete, clear actions or steps that help people understand how it affects them personally. The second role a leader plays is as a coach helping the person successfully make the change. Neither task is difficult. Both are far from intuitive, however. In fact, most managers tend to handle this part of a change effort poorly.


Translating change

People cannot commit to change when they don’t understand what it means to them. It’s easy to feel good about an overall goal. When employees understand what it means in terms of changing the way they work, that is when you find out how committed they truly are. Think about it like this—most people are more than willing to sign up for losing some weight, but most don’t want to work out five days a week or change the way they eat and shop for food. Change is not only about the idea but also about its execution.

Leaders must help their people answer the following questions:


  • What is the objective of the change?

  • How must I change the way I work to achieve the objective?

  • How often will this occur?

  • What other changes will this create?

  • How will it change my schedule?

  • What will be the result?

  • What resources will I need?

  • How will it be supported?

  • How will it be measured? Tracked?

Once people really understand the expected change, the hard work begins.


3 rules for coaching change

Change is personal. What may seem like a big deal to one employee may be a breeze for another. Never make assumptions about how easy or hard a change will be.

Change is about letting go as much as it is about taking on. People have a hard time breaking habits. Sometimes it’s difficult to let go of a habit.


Here are three rules to help leaders think through coaching their people through change:


(1) Identify the incentives encouraging your people to keep doing things the same way they have been. People do what they are incentivized to do.


(2) Try to pinpoint and minimize the disincentives to change. People avoid negative consequences. Most change comes with some negative impacts.


(3) Meet people where they are. Learn to coach them based on their readiness. Everyone is at a different stage of readiness when it comes to change. Some are unaware they need to change, others don’t want change, and some will be ready to test the waters.


Remember—“Just do it” may be a valuable marketing slogan, but it’s a lousy tool and strategy for change. Change requires up-front work, empathy, coaching skills, listening skills, patience, and much more. When you tackle change correctly, it may seem slow, but it saves time in the long run.

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