Are you ready for change? Or ready to change? Big difference: Ready for change says the change is “out there,” outside ourselves and happening around us. The second says: we – and I – need to change. It’s a different mindset, and it’s what most change initiatives require. From the board room to the break room, most enterprise transformations call on people – us – to change.
Why is change hard? What we call “resistance to change” most often comes from a place deep in humans that says, “change is ok as long as I don’t have to change.” The problem is most change – new technology, new org structure, new business process, new boss – means we must change too. The reality is, we have to get good at change, and one way to do that is to normalize change in a way that people can understand and get behind.
Yes, but … Reluctance to talk about change often comes from a litany of “not yet stories” leaders tell themselves. For example:
- Not yet: we don’t want to worry people
- Not yet: let’s wait till we know more
- Not yet: we don’t have a clear change plan
- Not yet: things will change anyways – let’s tell people when we know for sure
When asked, however, people say they want to know as early as possible that a change might be coming, even if the change plan isn’t finalized – often, especially if the change plan isn’t finalized. Yes, as humans we want stability and certainty. But we also want to have input. And transparency. For change leaders this can be tough. There are times when it may not be prudent to share-all, for example, as you are ramping up for a re-organization with countless and complex personnel considerations to manage. There’s no silver bullet here, but there is an approach to help you get change ready.
Start with yourself: What do you see? Imagine as a change leader you are looking at the future through a telescope. You turn the lens multiple times to bring the future into view. As you do this, you might shift from one foot to another (adjust your balance). You might blink a bit more (tears often sharpen vision). You might alter your breathing (perhaps even sigh). All to say, you are engaging many parts of yourself – as a person and as a leader – as you interact with a view of the future that comes into focus.
Now, get others change ready. Involve your team. Don’t wait until what you see is clear and certain and then “present” it to them. Invite them to think and imagine and learn with you that adjusting the lens a few times helps connect “what’s out there” with “what’s in here.” Give them time to practice, shift their stance bit by bit, blink a few extra times to digest the view and, yes, turn the lens with you. Why not optimize the very talents and skills for which you hired your team to hear what they see, and work to formulate the change path – together?
Then, ask questions. Change begins when somebody asks “Is there something we should be doing differently?” or “Is there something different we need to do?” Lighting the fuse of inquiry illuminates the way toward improvement and innovation. This may make people nervous at first. But putting the question on the table is good change leadership and expresses confidence in the people on your team. It ignites the process by which you and your teams can reflect, collaborate, and create. Take your hand-held telescope and project what you see on a wide screen. Maybe your team will see what you see … maybe they will see something different. Both are data to inform the change process.
No news isn’t good news. Information gaps create credibility deficits. When people “find out” about a change, the narrative is theirs and it is very hard for leaders to reclaim it. Your stakeholders will literally make up stories about what is or might happen (to them) at the slightest inkling that a change has begun that leaders aren’t talking about. Even virtually, the proverbial water cooler is alive and well. Humans experience the absence of information as the withholding of information. This erodes trust in the leaders they rely on to tell them the truth, and once that trust is lost it is very hard to get it back. All of this gets in the way of change readiness.
Normalize change. The question is not whether your organization is change ready or whether it will change. The question is whether you and your leadership team are ready to change? Are you willing to raise questions about the way things are as part of your day-to-day narrative? Are you working to navigate, and lead others, through what Peter Vaill called “permanent whitewater?” Change is no longer a blip on the screen. It’s part of our ongoing lived reality – it’s normal and it’s a sign of organizational life.