Leonardo Da Vinci “Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.”
In our first article last week on leading change, we looked briefly at the story of the saboteurs and the luddites. While they may have been responding rationally to a perceived threat to their livelihoods, they also would have been responding emotionally to a threat to their sense of expertise or self-worth. Occupations used to be so intertwined with the intrinsic sense of self that many people today still bear the hallmarks of their ancestors’ careers in their names (5.7 million people in the UK and Ireland still have occupational surnames). The Weavers, the Smiths, the Carters, and the Taylors: all these names suggest generations of skilled craftspeople. If your career is woven into your name and that career is replaced by a machine, what does it say about who you are?
Today, we are less likely to be named after a job, yet what we do can still have a strong impact on our sense of value, significance and self-worth. There are two typical change projects that we see in companies today: amalgamating two teams into one, or bringing in a big IT project to automate various functions. If you have been tasked with leading one of these projects, how do you help your team through the inevitable emotional turmoil that will come with it?
Carol Druick, who wrote the book ‘Growth and Fixed Mindsets’, insists it is your ethical duty as a leader to enable people to engage with change in a positive way. We recommend a good place to start is by talking your team through ‘the 4 laws of change’.
A Video of the Four Laws
An amusing example of Law 4 is below. It shows how something that didn’t exist 30 years ago has quickly become essential.
Here we will use an adapted version of the McKinsey model of behavioural change to show how you can ask not tell (Law 3)
1. Understanding why
2. Develop skills
3. Processes and systems
4. Role modelling
Your role as a leader is to empower individuals to act, to create leaders not followers.
Understanding why: set a vision and tell a story that means people want to engage in change. Remember to ask here too. Ask your employees what is happening in the wider industry or the wider world. What changes are coming and what does that mean the company needs to do to survive and thrive? The ‘why’ might be obvious to you, but not to others. It is important to be explicit. Often, when speaking to senior managers, they think they’ve fully communicated the plan. Whereas, when we speak to people on the ground, they don’t know what’s going on. Instead of sending one ‘copy all’ e-mail, communicate continuously, in different ways. Ask for feedback to check whether a message has been received, and start a dialogue to find out if your employees have any better ideas.
What if your team comes up with different solutions to your plan? If they are good solutions and you are a good leader, you would follow the team’s plans. Being wedded to a rigid plan before consulting the people it will affect is not true consultation. If a team have developed the plan themselves, they will feel in control and significant and will be more likely to act purposefully.
Develop skills: The McKinsey model says to teach your employees the skills they’ll need. The 4 laws of change suggest to ask them which skills they think they’ll need. Watch this amazing video from David Marquet, the captain of a nuclear submarine, who turned around the submarine’s poor performance by stepping back from his role of issuing orders and pushing leadership down through the ranks:
Processes and systems: Let the people own them. Top-down leadership doesn’t work. It often unintentionally ends up asking the impossible. We have known highly competent, driven, successful managers to resign from their jobs because senior leadership was asking them to impose processes and systems on the workforce that were simply impossible.
Role modelling: The McKinsey model says to role model positive behaviours. We would add here the importance of vulnerability-based trust. Share your fears about the future. Role model by saying things like “I don’t like the idea of this change, but I have faith in us as a team and we’re going to do it well.” It’s ok to be worried about change. This is natural and human. Go on a journey together. Ask your team “How can we make this a success for us?” Patrick Lencioni speaks very eloquently on this when outlining the 5 types of dysfunction in a team.
That example was anecdotal success from one company. We were able to test this theory in a series of experiments carried out at a global insurer, with teams manufacturing paper boxes. During leadership training (with permission from the attendees) we were able to gain 20% higher output by allowing them full autonomy. The high output group was able to choose their own group name, and their own methodology for manufacture; the control group had these imposed. Time and time again the team that had the most autonomy produced the most boxes.
It is possible to drive change by creating a ‘burning platform’. This sounds like “If we don’t change, we’ll all be redundant.” Wouldn’t it be much better though to create a ‘beautiful vision’? Ask your team to imagine “What would happen if ...?”
The hardest change management projects we have worked on have been where trust between the senior leadership and the workers has been broken in the past. Beware of false consultations. Only carry out an employee survey or a consultation exercise if you are willing to act on the results.
The most important law is: Ask don’t tell.
Dr Iris Firstenburg has written on the deeper psychology of motivating people through change and how to “build-in” change as opposed to just create “buy-in”. Buy in means: the plan has already been made; you’re just selling it to people. An example is an estate agent saying “Buy this lovely house.” Build in means: you’re asking people for their ideas to develop the plan. This is your partner saying “Let’s design our dream house together.” Which of these scenarios would excite you the most? Which one would you be willing to do the most work for?
The key to leading change is, you don’t lead change, you enable it.
Links to further reading: