Resistance is real: 4 steps to lead people through transformation

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The destination has been set. The path is clear, straight forward and easy. So why do some people go to great lengths to avoid difficult changes?

Actually, we shouldn’t be surprised. Leading change can seem like herding cats, and yet some leaders excel at encouraging people to move in a new direction.

Although we often avoid talking about the pandemic these days, there is no denying that it proved how those with the ability to quickly change direction could leap forward and gain a strategic advantage. And that is why I distinguish between change management and leadership.

Managing change is reactive. Surfing waves is fun, but you can only go where the waves take you. They will roll over you if you are not fast enough. Change leadership creates change wherever possible to stay ahead of the competition, proactively empowering people to shape and transform the waves that are inevitable, and leverage them to deliver the most benefit.

Management is a followers’ game. Great leaders create change based on great strategy.

Leading change is a proactive partnership between employees and leaders to ensure that strategic, necessary changes deliver the greatest benefit to the organization and its stakeholders. But there is always the risk of resistance.

The good news is that there are four proven steps you can take to predict the response to change and help people embrace it successfully:

1. Step into their shoes

This is the hardest part for leaders. Leaders often overestimate their understanding of what employees think and feel. Gather a group of employees and explain the destination. Ask them what they think it will take to get there, and what they think needs to be done. Ask them what they need. Include their input in your description of the trip. This is an important step to generate buy-in.

“Yes, your transformation will be difficult. Yes, you will feel scared, confused and dejected. Yes, you want to stop. Yes, it is the best work you will ever do.” –Robin Sharma

2. Ask for “likes”

Once people understand the purpose, would they give the concept a thumbs up or a thumbs down? Do they like it? It’s very difficult to move people toward a goal if they don’t like it or don’t believe it’s necessary. Ask them and get clarity on why they don’t like it. Objections tell you where to build messages that will appeal to your resistances.

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3. Test for landmines

As you continue to develop your message about “the change,” explain the journey to achieve the goal and ask yourself, “What could go wrong?” “What do you need to be successful?” Employees are quite good at identifying the pitfalls that are invisible to leaders. They know what consequences this has for their daily work. They know what customers will think. They know which peers will resist and why. Let them guide you.

When a goal is undesirable and riddled with landmines, it is a recipe for resistance. Focus your change leadership efforts on those who foresee the most problems.

4. Involve and engage

The first three steps can help you fully understand the challenge so you can create a plan that moves people in the right direction. Equipped with that input you can:

  • Highlight the benefits of the change that are especially attractive to your employees (from their point of view, not yours!).
  • Explain how you will support and equip employees to succeed through change (defusing landmines).
  • Engage those most likely to resist, and empower them to help their peers while also helping themselves by shaping the journey through change.
  • Actively listen to feedback from those who need to embrace the change, and continue to respond and adjust your message and path as necessary.
  • Recognize each step in the right direction and reinforce the change you hope to achieve.

Resistance can throw your entire program off track. It only takes one to lure others to the dark side.

Use these steps to get ahead of the curve and catch problems before they happen. We can’t avoid all problems and we may not have an answer to every objection, but recognizing that we have done our homework, resolved what we could, and empathizing with the pain we will have to endure goes a long way . silencing the opponents and encouraging everyone else.

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