As a manager, every now and then there’s no way around it — you have to introduce change. And after years in web startups, I’m still amazed by how resistant people can be to even the slightest of changes; replace your site’s font, and you’re bound to get as many as dozens of complaints from users who liked the old font better.
The work of a team should always embrace a great player but the great player must always work. – Alex Ferguson
But sometimes change is necessary, and I’m not even talking about change for the worst — like cut-backs or lay-offs. Many times, change is the natural byproduct of growth; you need to move to bigger offices, hire more people, rearrange departments and of course, introduce new technologies to manage various aspects of growth.
So how do you get your team to embrace change? How do you lower their level of suspicion towards it and remove friction?
I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
But first, let me explain briefly how I learned this: Though I wish our own tool was one of those bottom-up easy to adopt tools, it simply isn’t. It requires adoption that can only be lead from the top down, which makes for a big challenge.
Since it brings the most value to managers, it’s their job to get it adopted, and so I’ve watched many c-level executives lead adoption. With some of them I’ve brainstormed the process, others I just watched with awe as they — far more experienced managers than me — eased the tool into their companies with zero push-backs.
The Backseat Technique
And after a while observing, I noticed that the most successful ones followed a similar pattern. I call it the Backseat Technique.
There are always new, grander challenges to confront, and a true winner will embrace each one. – Mia Hamm
This is how it’s done:
1. Don’t Introduce Change As an Afterthought
If you want your team to embrace change, you can’t bring it up as an afterthought. Saying things like “check this out, see if it’s any good for us” or “I’m thinking we should move to new offices, what do you think?” is counter productive for two reasons:
- it doesn’t convey the importance of the change, and
- it feels like yet another top-down task which lacks something very important — incentive.
2. Identify the Change’s Stakeholders
Figure out who on your team will be most effected for the better by the proposed change. Who has the most to gain from it. These are your stakeholders, who are most likely to help you promote the change, as long as they fully understand its benefits for them.
3. Choose One Stakeholder
Identify the one person from the group of stakeholders who’s both a natural leader, and who you believe will get the value of the proposed change not only to themselves, but to the entire company as well.
4. Ask Them to Lead
Have a private talk with that person.
Explain the proposed change, and stress its value both to the team and to them. Then, after conveying its importance, tell them you think they are best suited to lead this change and that you trust them with this important move. Ask them to be the leader.
This is particularly important: Framing it this way, what you get is not something that feels like a task, but like an opportunity to prove themselves, and this is the incentive.
5. Place Yourself Behind the Leader
You’ve chosen a leader and got them to introduce the change, now empower them by getting behind them. From the back seat, you are best positioned to become an example for what you want the rest of the team to do, i.e. follow the leader and embrace change. Since this places you as part of the team, you are also best positioned to monitor negative responses and help replace them with a positive atmosphere around the change.
How do you get your team to embrace change?
Creative Commons image courtesy Eric Gravengaard.