Change Agents: Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Six tips for helping to transform your organization (when your organization doesn't seem to want the help).

Question: Help! My CEO is itching to “transform” our organization and she hired me as a change agent. Turns out, she’s the only one who wants to change. The rest of the organization seems fine rowing the “Status-Quo Boat.” How do I make these sea changes happen without heading for troubled waters? — Anchored to the Status-Quo Boat

Dear Anchored,

There’s nothing more frustrating than treading water when you’re clamoring to go full speed ahead. But take a deep breath before you plunge in, and realize that change doesn’t happen overnight or all at once. When you’re serving up change, there are going to be resisters. But most employees—even the most stubborn holdouts—understand that no organization can stand still or it’ll be roadkill for the next Uber in its field.

Rowing the status quo-boat? Here’s how to change course.

So how do you win your team over quickly and put an end to the heavy sighs? Here’s your battle plan.

Build excitement over a potential future versus dwelling in—and criticizing—the past

It sounds like you’re new to the organization. You might not know the history that has led your coworkers to feel the way they do. Some of your colleagues may have a good reason to believe that what your CEO thinks is “the next big thing” will be the equivalent of the New Coke for your organization. Maybe the CEO has pushed for similar changes in the past and it’s never led anywhere. Here’s how to take that into account as you move forward:

1. Listen before you speak: Understanding where your colleagues are coming from is essential to picking up on what might motivate them to join in your call for change. Actively and actually listening to your new counterparts not only helps you understand background and context, but it’ll begin to forge connections that are essential to moving things forward.

2. Show that your intentions are real, sustainable improvements versus change for change’s sake: A big part of your job will be showing the grousers around you that you’re not just putting lipstick on a pig (or a pug, for that matter). You’re making something happen that’s vital to the organization.

3. Don’t feel pressure to be a motivational speaker, life coach, or spiritual guru. Just be you: You don’t have to climb onto your Aeron chair and try to sound like Tony Robbins to get that message across, unless it comes naturally to you. What will help is setting clear objectives and tracking the team’s progress. When everyone sees things moving forward, you’ll have less selling to do.

If you have to break hearts, break them early and be quick to then focus on healing

You won’t be able to get anything done if your colleagues don’t trust you. And early hard work on building consensus can later be undermined by tough challenges you didn’t prepare people for. Here’s how to prevent that scenario:

4. Don’t peel the Band-Aid off slowly: If there’s any bad news to share about impending cutbacks or layoffs related to the changes your CEO’s plans will usher in, get them on the table now. That way, everyone can digest the news, plan accordingly and move on.

It’s no fun being the one breaking crummy news, but it’s going to be part of your job sometimes. Even if you’re telling people things they wish weren’t true, the people around you will respect you for being honest and treating them like adults who can handle reality.

Address fears head on without getting emotional

Even if no one is getting laid off, your colleagues may still be worried. They are probably wondering: What will be asked of them? How will their jobs change? Will they have to keep up with a machine that looks like a space alien to hang onto their jobs?

5. Take a walk: Take time to practice “management by walking around” and ask them what’s on their minds so you can address fears. If they’re raising valid concerns about the need for more training or other practical matters, make sure to let your CEO know, so she can address them proactively.

6. Take a step back: Once you’ve done these things, take a step back. Although you can control how you deliver your message, you can’t dictate how anyone reacts to it.

It’s not your role to reprogram them if they’re not willing to adjust. Your CEO will ultimately have to decide how to respond (and maybe with a simple “suck it up, buttercup” that only CEOs seem to be able to get away with saying). But if you’ve taken the right steps, my bet is that most of them will come around, roll up their sleeves and help you do what needs to be done.

— From the Desk of Browser, Protech Associates

Our AMS solution, Alliance by Protech, is built within the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform. Protech’s experience in the association community runs deep. In fact, we’ve been helping association leaders “Automate Goodness” for more than 30 years.

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