We’ve all experienced no shortage of change the last few years, that’s for certain. News flash: the pace of change won’t be slowing down any time soon, either. Which makes it even more important as a leader to foster true commitment to change from your team/organization. You do exactly that when you take advantage of three overlapping dynamics, helping employees (and yourself) to feel three things in particular, as I spell out in my new book, Leading from the Middle: A Playbook for Managers to Influence Up, Down, and Across the Organization. If you’re a visual person and it helps, imagine these three things as 3 interlocking circles, with the overlap section of all three circles being true commitment to change. Here’s each circle (i.e. what it takes).
1. Feeling safe.
Feeling safe means operating in a psychologically safe environment. You provide this when you assure employees they have the competence for change and that they’ll be supported throughout the journey, even as they make mistakes.
The support can take many forms. For example, offer empathetic words, share stories of your own change experiences, have patience for the learning process and tolerance for mistakes, and give employees easy access to the training and supporting resources they need. Just as important is to give employees the opportunity to practice new skills, replacing judgment with coaching.
The point here is that change is daunting enough—employees need to feel supported, not exposed.
2. Feeling involved.
Feeling involved means employees have a place to voice their concerns, feel heard, and have a hand in shaping how change is implemented. Ask them to share their emotions, experiences, insights, and ideas. Big changes are a big deal, and employees need help to process it and a forum to get involved with it. The less they become involved the more they’ll feel like change is happening to them rather than for them.
There are many ways to do this well, it just takes a little creativity. For example, I keynoted for a client at their “Change Forward Conference,” a two-day offsite that served as a forum for employees to learn about a major organizational change being introduced, and that gave the opportunity to input on details of how it should be implemented. Another client of mine conducts “Change Town Halls” and established a “Change Channel,” an online forum where employees post concerns and ideas, with a response from change leaders guaranteed within 24 hours.
By the way, don’t forget to act on as much of the input as feasible. Doing so not only strengthens employee commitment to the change, it helps employees feel a sense of control—something compromised during change.
3. Feeling accountable.
Feeling accountable comes from employees understanding their roles and responsibilities associated with change, knowing what needs to change by when in what way (including what behaviors), understanding expectations and consequences if expectations aren’t met, and recognizing how they’re being measured.
Tactfully reinforce all of this along the way as appropriate, with a supportive tone. Doing so is sure to further encourage employee commitment. Many times as a change leader, I was held accountable for holding employees accountable for implementing change. In each case, the accountability at every level helped the change initiative succeed.
It’s important to note that all of these dynamics overlap and work in concert with one another, so it’s vital to foster all three. For example, if employees feel safe, they’re more likely to get involved, and won’t feel threatened by being held accountable. Likewise, if they’re involved, it decreases uncertainty and adds to their sense of feeling safe, which means they won’t feel threatened by accountability. Finally, if employees feel accountable, they’ll want to get involved to control more of their destiny, and will yearn to feel safe as they strive to achieve what they’re being held accountable for. You get the idea.
So go foster commitment to change, not just compliance.
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