Leading change in the workplace

How can organisations successfully lead change? What models, strategies or frameworks will help us keep moving in the right direction?

First, you need to understand what change is, what kinds of people are more open to change, and how the brain responds to change.

Then you need to have ways to avoid change fatigue, and keep people focused on the future and the desired destination, and feeling empowered and enthused.

There’s also some things you should avoid like the plague, plus a simple four-step process you can follow to successfully lead change, every single time.

Let’s get into it!

Watch the first video in this series here:

Part 1 – Change and the New Normal: Our Changing Workplaces

And watch the previous video here:

Part 5 – What Happens in the Brain with Change? How To Navigate Our Instincts

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

How to do change well

Hi, Andrew from SACS and welcome to video number six in our six video sequence on change, the psychology of change, and how to manage change effectively.

So the topics that we’ve covered so far in this sequence have been the question of the new normal.

What are people forecasting the new normal is likely to be?

I talked about what change is psychologically, what goes on in the human brain when people are changing.

I also address the question of why people vary in their acceptance of change.

We talked about the preconditions of change and change fatigue. And particularly I made the comment that change fatigue is an absence of a psychological characteristic called engagement.

Low engagement, high change fatigue, high engagement, low change fatigue.

So if you want to have a change-ready workforce. I mentioned earlier in this sequence of videos, that it’s a good idea to recruit people who are intrinsically likely to welcome change and be resilient to it.

But as well as that, it’s a good idea to create high levels of engagement.

And we explained in that video how to do that.

Then we talked about the neuroscience of change, where we started to explain why the human brain can resist change.

And based on all of this, I’m going to give you some suggestions about how to do change in this particular video.

The importance of focus

So the first thing I want to talk about is focus. I’ve been known to say that the secret of life is what you focus on, and that’s a truism.

In other words, when people have successful lives, it’s often because they focus on things that are helpful to them, helpful to their success, and helpful to their wellbeing.

And when people have difficult lives, it’s often because they’re focusing on things which are unhelpful to them.

Change management is very much along these lines.

And the biggest mistake that people make in change management is to focus on either what’s wrong or the process.

So let me tell you what I mean by what’s wrong. So you want to change because we’re doing this badly, that badly, the other thing badly.

The moment you address that issue directly, you are insulting the people that you’re asking to change.

By the way, the word change of its very nature is intrinsically for most people, an insult.

And Rock and Schwartz, back in the mid two thousands, explained that one of the things that we often do in such exercises is that we accidentally turn on the amygdalae of people that we are asking to change.

So when we say to somebody that you need to change, that implies directly that there’s something wrong with them. And so people get defensive under those circumstances.

So mistake number one is to focus on what’s wrong.

Focus on the destination, not the process

Mistake number two is to focus on the process.

And so I suggest that you avoid the word change like the plague. People’s amygdala will start to glow when they hear the word change.

They know that discomfort is coming. Change of its very nature is, for many people, uncomfortable and you don’t need to go there.

So the alternative is that you focus on a destination. Which is, rather than focusing on what’s wrong or focusing on the process change, or by the way, the greatest insult is culture change.

If you say we need culture change, then you are suggesting that there’s something intrinsically wrong with the way that we interact in our organisation.

And if you’ve recruited well, you should have people who are proud of their organisation, of their job. So why insult them?

The alternative is to focus on a destination – where we need to be when we get to the endpoint.

So let’s say that we’re changing processes. A really good thing to do is to get everybody together and work out a destination for what it will be like when we fix these processes.

So what’s a good version of processes? Well, maybe it’s going to be easy, maybe it’s going to be fun, maybe it’s going to be clean, maybe we won’t have so much waste.

And then what you need to do is to build a process to get from where you are now to that destination.

We call this destination-based change.

So the technique is to not focus on what’s wrong, not focus on the process, but focus on where we need to get to.

And having done change management this way for well over a decade now, I can’t tell you the difference. The difference is that people have an enthusiasm for something that they’ve conjured up in their own minds.

Leading change – The three models

And by the way, leaders can be very instructive, very active in developing this kind of a destination.

But they can’t do it by themselves.

As I demonstrated to you in the earlier videos, if you’re entirely top down in creating the destination, in other words, you say to people, this is what this destination needs to be, and you just impose it on them, you are giving away much of the attraction of a destination.

People love destinations when they’ve been part of their formation.

Unless you happen to be incredibly charismatic, like a Nelson Mandela or something like that, don’t expect people to just automatically love your destination.

If they’ve been involved in the formation of the destination, then they are far more likely to love the destination.

Now, all this implies that there’s a certain leadership to be undertaken in change management.

And we mentioned three potential models of leadership.

Top-down leadership

Model number one is top down, which is where you tell people what they need to do, and every leader needs on occasions to be top down.

You can’t be a leader and not say to people, hey, this is the goal, this is what we need to achieve.

And maybe a board has mandated something, maybe a chief executive has mandated something, maybe a Minister of the Crown has mandated something.

In change management, we recommend strongly that you are simply authentic about that. Try to avoid weasel words. Try not to call a restructure something like a realignment or some kind of euphemism for that.

It’s best to be as blunt as possible. People will honour you if you’re courageous in the way that you communicate what needs to be communicated. Bluntness is better than sneakiness every time.

So that’s model one leadership, and that needs to be undertaken in change management.

Using consultation

Model two is probably the dominant model of change management in amongst enlightened employers. And it’s a thing called consultation.

And the way that consultation works is, I am a consultative leader, so I need to make a decision that’s me in the middle.

So I go out and I ask various people. Mary Smith, what do you think? Bill Jones, what do you think? John Groats, what do you think, et cetera?

And you get their opinion and you go back to your office and you maybe meet with a team of four or five experts and you decide, all right, we’re going to do X.

Now, people who have undertaken this kind of change management will probably have had the experience of where people act as though you haven’t consulted them at all.

They’re often very annoyed with what you came up with. And the reason is that individually, when they’ve cooked up their opinions and given them to you, if you don’t do exactly what they’ve said, then they think you’ve ignored them.

So that’s the risk of consultation.

Now, consultation needs to be done because it’s a good way of getting the lie of the land.

Change management via facilitation

But an incredibly powerful technique for change management is facilitation.

And facilitation is where you get a group of people – we’ve got only five here, by the way. I’ve done it with up to 250 at any one time running facilitations for change management activities.

So what you do is that you’re the leader, you get everybody together in one place and the place could be a physical place, or it could be a digital place, like a Zoom room.

And what you do is you facilitate a discussion about, firstly, what are the not negotiables in this exercise.

So we have to do something that’s been mandated by the board, so that’s top down. And I’ve spoken to people and I understand that this may well be a sensitive and even a difficult issue.

So I’ve decided to run a facilitation to cause us to decide together what needs to be done. So in this meeting, I tell people, this is the non-negotiable bit.

And now what we need to do is we need to decide how to get the best possible outcome in this situation.

So the leader then is a facilitator rather than a boss or a consulter. So the leader runs a process. The leader does not bring the decision.

The leader causes the staff to make up their own minds and then backs their decision.

Now, of course, this takes courage and of course it takes a commitment to this process and it takes a belief in people power, but I must say that having done many many change efforts this way, there’s nothing to beat it in terms of ease of implementation, levels of engagement, good quality of ideas.

Because I learned some time ago that I actually am not the creator of good ideas.

A very common mistake in change management

People around me create fantastic ideas and if we can harness those ideas and support them and then get people involved in actually doing the change – because that’s the other thing that people make as a really common mistake, they do stuff to people.

No, you’ve got to get people doing the change themselves and that way you could mobilise an entire army to do things like this.

So I have led the process of restructuring many organisations by virtue of mobilising the employees of those organisations to develop a structure.

And yes, I create some processes and I toss in some intellectual property about here’s some things that you might like to consider in structures, but not one of the structures has been created by me or by the leadership group of the organisation. The executives.

They’re always created by groups of staff and then they’re voted for.

And then typically what would happen Is that that structure would be promoted or presented to the executive group and they would decide.

And virtually every time the executive group has decided to accept the structure that was created through this facilitative process.

Why? Because it’s good. It’s a good structure. The staff have skin in the game to create this new structure and they typically do a great job.

Now, this is not just for restructuring organisations, it can be done for a range of different things.

And for those of you who have ever undertaken an engagement survey process, team by team, this is a really good way of optimising each team.

Cause the group to come together and the leader runs a process, or maybe an external facilitator runs a process, which causes the staff to come up with a plan, after deciding what would the optimum version of this team be, come up with a plan about how to get there.

And then the leader backs the staff to do it, but actually gets the staff to do some of it. This is people power in change management.

Instead of volunteers, ask for nominations

Now here’s another little tip that you might like to consider.

I suggest strongly that when you do this, let’s say you want a representative group of staff to help you with something.

So let’s say that the issue at hand is customer service and we want to optimise our customer service.

Now we’ve avoided the trap of saying this is what’s wrong with our customer service and thereby making everybody anxious and defensive. And we’ve also avoided focusing on the process – we need culture change, we need change in respect of customer service.

So you’ve got an opportunity to choose a representative group. And the worst way of doing it is to ask people to volunteer.

Volunteers are of their very intrinsic nature, unrepresentative of their colleagues.

I mean, you can prove this easily. If you’ve got an organisation of 1000 people and you ask for volunteers, you’ll be lucky to get ten or 15. So ten or 15 people are clearly not representative of their colleagues.

The alternative and the sensible way to do it is to get people to nominate people who they want to represent them on such a group.

So we’ve got this customer service group from across the organisation, nominate somebody who you think would do a great job.

And two things happen.

One, the people who nominate people make good choices. Now they will nominate yaysayers, people who really love the organisation and want to get everything running smoothly.

And they also nominate, on occasions, naysayers. The biggest mistake that you can make in change management is to screen out the naysayers from your process.

You need them because otherwise they’re going to come to the fore when you launch whatever it is that you want to do.

And when you’ve got that, you’ve got the enemy within. Why not have the enemy inside the tent rather than outside the tent conspiring?

So nominations do that.

But as well as that, it’s a talent exercise. People will nominate people who they believe can do a good job, and they also nominate people who they think will represent them well.

Nominees are super responsible

Now, thing number two, that happens when you get a nominated group is that they come along and they are hyper-engaged, they feel responsible.

Typically they act responsibly, they do what’s best for the company, they act responsibly in respect of their colleagues, they consult their colleagues during the process.

This is the best possible outcome that you could have – a motivated group of people who really want to do the right thing by their colleagues and the organisation.

That’s what the nomination process does.

And what you’ll also find is when you do this, these people will be representative of their colleagues, and that’s what those little arrows mean.

So they’re making contact with people in different geographical locations, in different levels of seniority.

And ultimately what you end up with is your nominated group.

Empowerment and accountability

And the process is really then a matter of pumping up empowerment and pumping up accountability at the same time.

So let me explain.

If you really want to optimise an organisation, empowerment is one of the most powerful things that you can do.

Because as I showed you in earlier videos, that’s the single thing that you can do to rapidly increase people’s levels of engagement – you empower people, they become more engaged.

That’s a finding from across the world of research into engagement.

But if you empower people without holding them accountable for what they come up with, then you’re making the mistake of not building in a structure that ensures that the organisation gets what it needs and of course, the colleagues get what they need.

So empowerment creates enthusiasm, accountability, in other words, okay, you’ve said that you want to do this.

Let’s make a time frame here. Let’s commit to getting this done by a certain time. And what happens then is that the team and the organisation becomes a group of promise keepers.

We make promises and we live those promises out. And that’s very motivating for staff.

And so this leads us to a kind of a neuroscience-based change management methodology.

Now, this can be done at the individual level, in which case it’s coaching. So let’s say I’m working with Mary Smith, and Mary Smith wants to improve her skills in a particular area.

Let’s say it’s delegation and I want her to improve her skills in delegation. This technique will work at an individual coaching level.

But it also works at a group level.

Using the 4-step D.R.O.P. process

And so the idea is that you use this technique called D.R.O.P. – drop technique.

Destination setting is where we come up with a really clear idea of where we want to be when we’ve done whatever it is that we need to do.

So if we’re going to have good customer service, instead of focusing on what’s wrong with customer service, let’s identify what we want our customers to say about us.

What will they say when we’ve optimised our customer service?

And if we come up with ideas like, they’ll say that we’re helpful, they’ll say that we’re responsive, they’ll say that we’re professional. Great. That gives you a destination to work towards.

And if you’ve built the destination out of the group, it will be a destination that the entire group will want to move towards.

Neuroscience tells us people move towards what they focus on. Reality checking is all about identifying where we are now and where we need to get to.

So we’ve identified our destination.

What I like to do is to get people to rate how close they are to the destination. So ten means we’re already there. Nothing needs to change.

Zero means we’re as far away from the destination as possible. Five means we’re sort of halfway there.

The numbers, by the way, are part of what I in earlier videos described as turning on the new brain, turning on the prefrontal cortex.

Only the prefrontal cortex can do an exercise like giving a number to something.

And when you do that, when you turn on the prefrontal cortex, you actually make people more broad-minded and more receptive of change.

Creating options – the right way to brainstorm

Option creation is where you cause the group to undertake a broad-minded brainstorming activity, where they come up with as many ideas as possible, you know, even some kooky ones.

Why not?

Later on we’re going to vote for the ideas. But if people are coming up with really creative ideas, then isn’t that what we call innovation?

So encourage people as they’re in their groups coming up with options of things that might be done.

Don’t evaluate them at that time, come up with as many ideas as possible and just write them down. So it’s a brainstorming exercise.

And then the final part of the process is planning, doing and reflecting.

I think that what you need to do is once you’ve got all of these ideas that have been created, it’s a really good idea to get people to vote for the ideas that have been created.

So you can imagine, if I’m doing this in a group of 200 people, as I’ve done on many occasions, you might have tables of ten, and each of those tables will come up with maybe 15, 20, 30, ten, five ideas each.

Turning ideas into action

Take those ideas, stick them on the wall, and get people to vote for them. That’s how you will democratically identify what people care most about.

Now, when you get what they have voted for, then you go into a true action planning exercise, which is to say, all right, this option got the greatest number of votes.

Now let’s plan how we’re going to do it. Let’s agree, who’s going to lead this? You need a leader, and it’s ideal if the leader isn’t always some big boss.

It’s great for the organisation if somebody who’s, let’s say, middle level or even lower in the organisation gets the opportunity to be seen as a leader of something really important.

People will consider that to be empowering. Now, the big boss must then endorse that person and in effect, delegates some authority to that person to lead the process.

Second, you want somebody to help that person.

And so that might be a team of four, two, 20, whatever, depending on what the issue is. But people who will help that person.

So that person is a leader of that group to achieve a certain outcome. And so that’s the next thing we have to decide what is the outcome that needs to be achieved here.

So you define what the product will be when it’s finally created. And ultimately, then what you do is you make a time frame.

You agree on a time frame. When will this be done by? And you publicise that time frame. So everyone knows Mary Smith is leading this.

She’s got a team of six people who are helping her.

They know exactly what the end point’s going to be, and they know when it’s going to be delivered.

Leading successful change

And if you can do change management like that, you are doing it with empowerment, but you’re also doing it with accountability.

And so people will be enthusiastic about it. And they will see that this is a development in the organisation’s corporate culture. They will see this as a very positive thing.

That’s your opportunity to use people power in change management.

Now, if you’re interested in this, SACS has some intellectual property to help people to run change in this kind of a way and this kit can be used at an individual level or it can be used at a group base level.

But if you’re interested, drop us a note and we’ll do what we can to help.

The key pieces of successful change management

So in summary, what have I said about change management in this six video sequence?

Firstly, I’ve said that people vary in their receptiveness to change so it’s a good idea to recruit change-ready employees.

The psychological markers of this are very easy to identify.

Look for smart people, resilient people who are optimistic and positive.

Look for people who are hardworking and committed and these are all easy to identify on the way into an organisation if you use psych testing and good quality behavioural interviewing.

Stop fighting your employees’ brains. There’s no need to cause people to be insulted by talking about culture change or to focus on what’s wrong.

In effect, we can undertake change with the most flexible creature on planet Earth, a human being.

Human beings are incredibly flexible, as I mentioned earlier in the video sequence. So we’ve coached ourselves to believe that they are change resistant because they don’t like change the way it’s often done.

I think there’s an opportunity to sidestep the resistance and to work with people rather than to fight their brain.

Create the preconditions for change and the preconditions for change are things like engagement.

Avoid the big issue of change fatigue by causing high levels of engagement, and therefore you need to educate leaders within the organisation how they can increase engagement.

And educate people to the difference between old and new brain behaviours.

I think one of the things that we do when we talk to people about this is that we cause people to be more broad-minded, but we also cause people to understand, to become a little bit more mindful about why they might be uncomfortable with some of the things that are taking place as change is happening.

And finally, consultation is not enough. Empowerment and accountability.

And that’s why in this video we’ve advocated the cause of facilitative leadership.

I hope this video has been of use to you and please, if you’re interested in the subject matter in the earlier videos, hunt them down, because I think that those earlier videos kind of lead up to why the concept of destination-based change as we’ve explained it in this video, why we feel it works.

Now, as I said in the course of this video, this has been applied in many, many organisations and we’ve coached many organisations to do change this way.

Give it a try. I think it will be better for you.

Thanks very much for watching.

Watch the first video in this series to find out more about effective change management practices:

Part 1 – Change and the New Normal: Our Changing Workplaces

And watch the previous video here:

Part 5 – What Happens in the Brain with Change? How To Navigate Our Instincts

And if you’d like some help to measure the change resistance of your incoming recruits or the current engagement levels of your staff, contact us about our Employee Engagement Surveys.

SACS Consulting
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