People don't hate change, they hate being changed

You know how it usually goes: the team leader/manager/senior executive comes up with a change to the way they want their people to work, takes their ‘amazing’ idea to their people and says, “Here is the new, awesome way we are going to start doing things… Now I want you to really OWN it and make it work!” Not surprisingly, instead of jumping for joy and taking said ownership of this ‘new and improved’ way, their people respond with scepticism, apathy and minimum compliance.

There’s a common misconception that people hate change. But this is not true. People change all the time. When my father passed away 2 years ago, my elderly mother, for the first time in 40 years, had to take control of her own finances. This remarkable wahine, who hitherto had only used her smartphone to send me almost unintelligible texts – in the name of efficiency, she would leave out the vowels – now manages her finances by hotspotting from her phone to her tablet and using an app to do internet banking.

15 years ago we all went to a travel agent to book our flights, to the bank or the ATM to do our banking, read our news in a newspaper, took photos on a camera, wrote emails on a computer, and did equations on a calculator. Now, we do ALL THESE THINGS on one small device that fits in our pocket. And most people haven’t had to be dragged in shackles to the smartphone store. So people change when there is something in it for them.

What we’re talking about here is imposed change versus intentional change. Imposed change is change that is forced upon us; intentional change is that which we decide to make for ourselves. Which do you think is more quickly adopted? Which do you think is longer lasting? We know from experience that the answer is intentional change.

So if we know that people adopt change more quickly when they decide to make it for themselves, how can we use this knowledge to become better leaders of change?

The answer lies in authorship.

The leader in the opening paragraph had the right outcome in mind – they wanted their team to OWN the change. When people have ownership of a change, they will experiment with it, champion it, support others through it and persist even when it is hard. But where our leader failed was in not giving their people authorship of the change.

You can’t have ownership without authorship.

I have seen this many times as a result of phony consultation processes. Whether it be a significant, organisation-wide change like a restructure, or a smaller department or team situation, what happens time and again is that the initiators of a change embark on a consultation process that is no more than a ‘tick and flick’ exercise. The trajectory of the change, and even the details of its implementation are set in stone before the consultation process begins. There is no intention of using the feedback from employees to inform the change, so it basically becomes a waste of time for everybody. The result of this phony consultation process is that the employees are disgruntled, feeling like their time has been wasted and their opinions discounted, and they approach the roll-out of the change with a negative attitude from its outset. A client of mine who is the Marketing Manager at a large local business, told me about talking to employees at their annual Strategy Roll-out sessions where one man admitted, “I only come each year for the sausage rolls.” She vowed to do it differently from then on and has, with much success.

In contrast, a genuine consultation process can add real value to any planned change. New information and perspectives from people in varying roles and levels throughout the organisation are gained. Engagement with the organisation’s mahi increases as people discuss how they can be even better. Employees feel valued and respected as a result of having their views heard and considered, which deepens their loyalty to the organisation.

Smart leaders set out the direction of the change and the outcomes they want to achieve with it and then give their people a genuine opportunity to be part of authoring the change. Through that authorship, employees will be able to suggest things that will actually make their work easier, better, more interesting, more productive and more rewarding. So when the change is implemented, their WIFM is already embedded. What’s a WIFM you ask? It stands for What’s In it For Me, and it’s very powerful.

Next time there is significant change in the wind at your workplace, try giving your people a chance to contribute to authoring it. It’s the only way you’ll ever get them to truly OWN it.

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