British statesman, Harold Wilson, once said, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay.” We’ve all heard change is inevitable, that everything around us is in a constant state of change. So, why is it that employees often resist change?
One reason is, they “overestimate the value of what they have – and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up”, according to authors James Belasco and Ralph Stayer. People become comfortable with the status quo and they fear change. This fear often stems from a fear of failure. That is why part of our job as leaders in managing change is creating an open environment where people feel comfortable talking about their concerns, as well as a culture where failure is OK when working through change, as long as lessons are learned from it and mistakes are not repeated.
There’s an engineering principle that says that whenever there is movement there is potential for error. Even when you’re driving down a straight stretch of highway at 80 kilometers per hour, you will find yourself slightly adjusting the steering wheel back and forth to stay on the road. Even with the best-engineered vehicle and the best-engineered road, you have to make course corrections. The leader’s responsibility is to see error as an opportunity to use as course correction data.
As human beings we are creatures of habit and our brains are hardwired to avoid making mistakes. But making mistakes is an inherent part of transition and change.
Change leadership creates an environment that mitigates the fear of change and instead creates a strategic advantage out of being flexible with change. It starts with expectations and is sustained by trust.
Here are three things you can do to be a leader who makes change work.
Leave room for mistakes when your team is working through change. You have to expect that mistakes are going to happen when things are in transition. Be the model to your team that mistakes are OK – even big ones. If you go into a fit when an employee makes a mistake, they are going to become less willing and able to cope with important changes in the business.
Kill the Myth of Perfection
High-quality production is important, but don’t dwell on perfection. Balance the pursuit of quality with an equal emphasis on being able to manage error. Focus on cultivating what’s working and honor your people by positively gossiping about their performance, rather than dwelling on details and small imperfections.
Excellence comes from personal mastery. Personal mastery comes only through repetition and practice. Therefore, if you’re working on a change initiative which is not routine, and most people are experiencing it for the first time, don’t expect excellence. Instead, look for fit-for-purpose. Ask yourself, “is this level of quality adequate for this to work for now?” Eventually, when the change is completed you can push for excellence, as it would become routine by then.
Build Trust and Loyalty
Trust – and, ultimately, loyalty – is developed by taking the blame and reflecting the praise. Despite this truth being intuitively understood by professionals, this is still a concept that many managers find difficult to embrace. As the leader, you are responsible for taking the heat when mistakes are made.
Here is a story narrated by Dr. Terry Paulson, one of Crestcom’s faculty members. “This man was just starting out his professional career in IT as a systems administrator. In his second week on the job he took the entire network down for the whole company. He was working at his computer when all of a sudden he heard things coming out of other cubicles that were not constructive – and he knew at that moment he had made a big mistake.
He went directly to his boss and said, “I think I’ve made a big mistake”. She, being an approachable manager, began to ask questions to collect information. “Tell me what happened”.
Midway into this discussion comes her boss – one of those loud, angry types – hollering down the hallway. Into the office he storms, red-faced and yelling. The guy who made the mistake is sitting there watching his boss get yelled at for his mistake. He’s only been on the job two weeks, so he’s sitting there thinking I’m history. I’m fired for sure.
For 15 minutes he watched as his boss got yelled at for his mistake and not once did she even mention his name. She took the entire heat of that confrontation. Finally, the big cheese began to run out of steam and said, “This mistake should have never happened!” To which she replied, “It did and I take full responsibility for that. That’s my area of responsibility and every minute we’re spending here is time we’re not getting the system back up.”
When the big boss leaves, she takes a deep breath, and turns to the guy and says, “Don’t do that again, please! In fact if this happens frequently we will have to have a different kind of conversation. Few people have the courage to own up their mistake. You did and I appreciate that. Now let’s get back to work. How do we get this rectified?”
And from that day forward, she had the hardest working most loyal employee in this guy. He did everything he could to not let her down, and to this day he still says she is the best boss he has ever worked for. And he certainly never made that mistake again!”
When you’re inviting people to go through change, you’re still responsible. You don’t delegate that responsibility.
And always remember – all improvement is because of change; but not all change is an improvement.