Change Is Great! You Go First

Steve Schumacher
The Minute You Are Comfortable With Where You Are, You Are No Longer There.
By Steve Schumacher


One of the companies I worked with had an assistant plant manager that, on the surface, seemed to struggle with change more than most people.

Whenever the plant manager, or other person above him, would mention a new program, process or any other kind of change, he would react in a very negative way. The first words out of his mouth were always “No way, can’t do it!” Obviously, a reaction like that caused people to keep their distance from him, and go around him to get the necessary changes implemented.

After I got to know this assistant plant manager better, I told him how he came across to others in regard to change. Believe it or not, he had no idea that he came across that way.

We worked on his habit of blurting out his resistance to change right away, and things began to change for the better. It was not that he was resistant to change, saying “No way, can’t do it!” had just become a habit that he was not even aware of.

Most of us struggle with change, even though we know that change is the only constant in business. Companies, and employees, need to change to stay up with new advances in everything we do, and to stay ahead of the competition. Intuitively, we all know that, but change is still a challenge. We all want to say we were the first to adopt a change, yet we balk at the first mention of a change.

As a leader, there are some things you can do to make change easier for your employees and benefit the company:

Understand that most people think negatively with change. I worked with a lady once that burst out crying when she was told she was getting a promotion, more money and new responsibilities. Most of us would be thrilled, but she was frightened.

She had been doing the same thing for 17 years and was comfortable. The thought of change, even though it was positive, made her anxious. Even in the best circumstances, most people will look for the negatives in a change that affects them. As a leader, it is important to understand that, listen and empathize, and continue to show employees the positives in the change.

Over-communicate. In times of change in business, which can be stressful for employees, you must be consistent and frequent in your communication about the change. Put on your best listening hat and pay attention to what your employee’s concerns and fears are.

Do not stop there. Help them overcome those concerns through words and actions. I have seen too many executives make one pronouncement about the upcoming changes, and think everyone will jump on board. We are not that way; we need more time and reassurance. Just when you think you have communicated enough, do it some more.

Model the change. If the change involves things that are required in everyone’s behavior, be the first to make those changes yourself. If people feel like you are telling them to do it, but you don’t, they will never own the change completely.

If it is a new procedure, process or program, be the champion of the change for everyone. When others see you take the lead and show success, it will be easier for them to get on board.

Make the vision of the change clear, and help others let go of the past. Employees cannot move forward with one foot stuck in the past. Make it crystal clear that the old way of doing things is no longer acceptable, and that everyone will be accountable for making the change happen.

Be mindful that people need to hang on to the past for awhile, as they move forward. It is called the “wing walker” syndrome. Just like a wing walker, we need to hold onto what is safe until we are sure we have the safety of the new way well in hand.

Identify change champions. Find people within the organization who are excited about the new way, and have the ability to influence others. Give them the opportunity to help others get through the change successfully, and keep them motivated.

Hold them up to the rest of the employees as models of successful change.

The only thing we can count on for sure, in business, is that things will always be changing. That is how we as individuals, and companies, continue to grow and progress. Everyone changes at difference paces and for different reasons. As a leader, it is your job to embrace change and help others do the same.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected]

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