Your People are the Hard, not the Soft Side, of Change

post from CrisMarie Campbell and Susan
If you want your
organization to successfully embrace your strategic change, focus on the human aspect.
That’s right. People will be the ones implementing the change. So, get them involved,
listen to them, and work together. If you do, you’ll build tremendous loyalty,
trust, and engagement, which is priceless.
As coaches, our work
with leaders includes focusing on the human side, which helps leaders reap the
ROI of their business or smart investment. In short, we teach leaders to be
proactive with change.
When I, CrisMarie, was
consulting with Blue Cross Blue Shield in the early 2000s, I was lucky enough
to get certified in the Leading and Managing Organizational Transitions through
William Bridges & Associates. Much of how I approach change initiatives is
influenced by William Bridges, the grandfather of change management and author
of Managing Transitions.
A critical proactive
measure is to be sure you communicate about the change early, often, and in
varied ways. Give your people what they need to get on board with the change.
I’ve adapted Bridges’ work for this simple communication framework called Why, What, How, and Who:  
Why:  Start with why. People need to
understand why this change is so important. You have a good reason. Let them
know what it is.
What: Paint
a clear picture of how the world will look and feel on the other side of the
change so people understand what you are aiming for. Your team wants to know
how the destination will look and feel. Understanding the target will help them
gauge their progress along the way.
How: Lay
out a step-by-step plan how the organization will get to the final destination.
Plans may change as you
travel and close the gap between where the organization is now and where you
want it to go. Offer frequent updates.
Who: Who
needs to do what? Help your people understand exactly what they will be doing
to make this change a reality. You can’t do it alone. Giving people a role
helps them buy in to the change as they participate in the implementation.
For people to buy in to
change, they need to understand the change from your point of view. You know why
you want to change, what you are aiming for, how you are
going to get there, and who needs to do what. Explain that to them so it
becomes crystal clear, easy to understand, and nearly impossible to be
In addition to the why, what, how, and who, people want to know that you care about more than just the
business results. They want to know you care about them as human beings. When you communicate, let people feel like
they are part of this process, because, in fact, they are. You literally could
not do it without them.  
Show them they matter
as people. They are not just cogs in the wheel. You hear and understand their
points of view. Be considerate. Let them talk about where they are in the change
process, especially if they are upset with it. Shutting down their frustrations
only sends those feelings underground, causing bigger problems, like gossip and
undermining – what we call corporate cancer. This will only sabotage your
change efforts.
Let them know you
haven’t discarded them. Show the team how they are still connected to the
company, to you, and to each other in the midst of this change. Give them a specific
role to play, hear their feedback, and encourage their participation in the
Combine the why, what, how, and who when you address the organization. This detailed communication
gives people clarity about where they are going, and helps them get and stay engaged.
So, what happens when
things get bleak? Let’s look at the Valley of Despair.
of Despair

Change requires people
to work differently, be it on a system or in a specific business process.
Going from what was to
what will be involves a period of transition. During this transition, productivity
almost always drops. In change management circles, this is called the Valley of
Despair. It’s based on
and adapted by various Change Management experts from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s
“Five Stages of Grief” described in her book, On Death & Dying.  
Productivity falloffs during
times of transition is due in part to concrete changes such as new systems and
processes. It’s also due to the internal process human beings navigate to
embrace the change.
William Bridges says
that when change occurs, people have to experience psychological reorientation
to the new way of being. For people who have been doing the same things at the same
place for a long time, this does not happen overnight. People process at
different speeds.
As a leader, you can
support individuals to move through this process.
seems like resistance is often fear of the unknown.
Most people really do
want to do a good job. They resist the new way because they’re afraid of losing
competency, status, control, relationships, turf, meaning, and/or identity.
This fear mires them in resistance. Getting specific about what they fear they
are losing and acknowledging that fear will help them move through the resistance.
For example, let’s say
you’re implementing a new software system. You have an older employee, Bob, who
is a wiz on the old system. Everyone comes to him when they have issues. When the
new system arrives, with much more modern technology, Bob may feel a bit
threatened. His feelings are justified. All of a sudden, he doesn’t know what
he’s doing. He’s a beginner. If there’s not space for him to acknowledge his
loss of competency, he may feel so overwhelmed that he quits. When he does, all
his organizational knowledge, which is priceless, walks out the door with him.
If instead, there’s
permission for him to first acknowledge the loss, he can then feel it and accept
that he’s a beginner. This makes it easier for him to engage in the training
offered. Acknowledgement of what is being lost right-sizes the impact of
change. The system is new, but Bob still knows all about the organization.
Once Bob, or any
employee identifies their loss, they can move through it and figure out how to replace
or redefine what they have lost. Sometimes they have to come to terms with the
need to let go, or relinquish, something. For Bob, he may have to let go of
“man to go-to” status when the new system arrives as the younger employees
learn it more quickly.

Communication — early
and often — is a key responsibility for leaders implementing big change.
Communicate why the organization is changing, what the end goal
looks and feels like, how the organization will get there, and who will
do what to make it so.
And remember, success
depends on bringing your people along. Treat them as humans so they know they
matter to you, to each other, and to the company. Be prepared for the Valley of
Despair, and provide a path for individuals to honestly talk about their
struggles in the change process. Give them ways to identify what specifically
they’re losing in this change and how they can replace, redefine, or relinquish
what they have lost.
Finally, keep in mind that big change can take months or
years to successfully implement. Stay connected to your people for the entire
journey. Then you’ll reap the ROI you’ve been looking for.
Campbell and Susan Clarke
are coaches, business consultants, speakers,
and co-authors of The
Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage
. They
and their organization, Thrive! Coaching
and Consulting
specialize in helping professional women, leaders, teams and
entire companies learn how to transform conflict into creativity and innovation.