Strategies for Managing Change in the Workplace

One of the strategies for managing change that leaders should excel at is getting people excited to be a part of the change. Here is how you can easily do this.

One of the strategies for managing change that many leaders aren't as skilled as they could be is the process of helping people to visualize a brighter future.

You've seen it before ... An announcement from a leader introduces a change (big or small). S/he outlines what the change is and why it is coming into effect. S/he finishes the presentation. Then almost immediately, the talk in the room turns to the problems, the challenges, the reasons why this is going to be difficult and/or won't work.

And the feeling (more often than not) is either, (worst case scenario) fear and anger, or (best case) bemusement and/or indifference.

Do you know why this happens? Because leaders rush too quickly to the mechanics of the change. Rather than taking people on a journey that engages them in the sense of what could be.

Strategies Change

Leaders should take their people on a journey before getting into the mechanics of change

Begin with the End in Mind as You Frame the Story You are Going to Tell

To get people excited about and engaged with the upcoming change, apply the tip shared by Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ... "Begin With the End in Mind".

Unfortunately, leaders frequently plan their presentations using Powerpoint or Keynote. They start by bullet-pointing their objectives and outcomes.  

This style of preparation pushes you to create the type of presentation that is the norm in most organizations:

  • An announcement filled with a vague collection of concepts and ideas
  • A leader giving detached and stiff presentation
  • A presentation that often ends up with people feeling either bored, angry and/or obstinately defiant

Instead, You Need to Take BLAH into AHA

If you want your people to become invested in coming on a journey with you, you need to think deeply about how to engage them in seeing themselves into the new place.

Don't underestimate this:

Engaging people's hearts is more crucial than enlisting their heads

As you are planning the announcement, visualize in a vivid, sensory-rich way how things will be different. Spend time writing it out. Or talking it out. I like using an app like Otter, which transcribes your speech into text.

Try telling a story about what the future holds ... 

as though it has already happened. If you aren't sure how to do this, see the framework below for creating a compelling story. 

When you tell the story 'right', you help people see themselves into the future - in a positive way. Instead of focusing on all the problems or reasons why they should try to swerve or oppose this change! 

When you excel at this, they'll become excited and literally can't wait to get the chance to be a part of the change process.

As much as possible, you want your first presentation to inspire people to see possibilities.

Case Study

One of the leaders I coach is a master at this. Shortly after he became the CEO of what was, a somewhat jaded and cynical organization, he addressed his leadership team. I sat in that room, watching him weave a story to this team that he'd been leading for a month. A story that painted a bright future and inspired all these hard-nosed, "Yeah like anything is going to change" C-suite guys to sit up tall.

In that 15-minute talk from the heart (but also one that we'd spent hours planning), he began the transformation of that team and the broader organization.  

He got them dreaming big and Believing (one of the 4Bs of high-performance). It transformed what they thought was possible.

Even more importantly, this leader was so gifted at painting a picture that connected with people, that whenever he presented on tv or radio, you could see a pick up in their stock price. 

Great leaders are highly skilled at doing this ... at telling a story that engages people's emotions. 

Search "famous inspirational speeches that have changed the world". Read the speeches and see how these leaders weaved a picture that others could see themselves in. Speeches that inspired others to get behind the change.

Admiral McRaven, in his Graduate Commencement speech, urges the graduates "If you want to change the world, don't be afraid of the circuses." He was saying don't be afraid of failing. You can see /read this inspiring speech here

For example, take a look at JFK's 1962, "We choose to go to the moon speech." Look closely at the choice of words and the imagery he paints.

When you begin to tell a story -- rather than merely stating the bald facts -- your language becomes more compelling. People start to engage in the story. 

Rather than hearing an abstract idea, they begin to see themselves in the future picture. They are less likely to focus on all the problems or reasons why they should try to swerve this change.

However, as you are creating your presentation, there's a piece of psychology you need to be aware of that will impact how well people will react to your announcement.

Access the Managing The People Side of Change training to understand this psychology and what you need to do to avoid people becoming immediately resistant to your message (even the choice of one word can make a difference!)

Framework for Creating a Compelling Story

Take the time to answer these questions and create a story that will help your people see themselves in the future ... in a positive way. Take them on a journey so they become excited and literally can't wait to get the chance to be a part of the change process.

  • What will you or others SEE once this change happens, that you're not SEEING now?
  • What will you or others FEEL once this change happens, that you're not FEELING now?
  • What will you or others BE DOING once this change happens, that you're not DOING now?
  • What will you or others HEAR once this change happens, that you're not HEARING now?

Thanks to my good friend and performance measurement specialist Stacey Barr for sharing the thinking about writing performance objectives using sensory perception. Stacey was a guest presenter at a Breakthrough Leadership webinar series I ran several years ago, and her insights into sensory integration and performance measurement rocked the participants (in a powerful way!).

Now be careful of reverting to 'bullet-point-mania' as you answer these questions! Write it like a story.

Don't worry if at first, it feels a little stilted trying to write in 'prosy' sentences. It definitely won't be what you'd feel comfortable presenting to your team! At this point, all you want to do is to let your creative juices flow. Tame it down a little later if you wish to ... but for the moment, have fun and imagine the best possible scenario.

You see, there is a two-fold process happening here. Yes, you are prepping up your presentation to the team, but FAR MORE SIGNIFICANTLY, you are igniting within yourself the vibe and the excitement that you want to ignite in your team. And bullet points generally don't cut it!

If you don't engage YOUR emotions first ... if you aren't excited and eagerly anticipating the bright new future ... how on earth do you expect to get your people feeling that way?

If you don't engage YOUR emotions first ... if you aren't excited and eagerly anticipating the bright new future ... how on earth do you expect to get your people feeling that way?

When you engage your emotions and get that sense of anticipation ... the on the edge of your seat - can't wait to get at it feeling... you'll find that when you get in front of your team, the words will flow. You will excite your people to come with you on the journey.

You won't need your presentation to be word perfect.

Your vibe of 'this is going to be good' will carry the day. And interestingly, you don't have to be all 'rah-rah' with it.

Change Possibility

Told well, your story will get people excited by the possibilities contained within the change

What's your take away from this page? Hopefully, it is this ... that one of the best strategies for managing change is that when you become inspired by and excited about the change, you will create the vibe that inspires others to WANT to come on the journey ... regardless of the challenges.

Paul Keating, then Prime Minister of Australia, gave a speech on 10 December 1992 for the Australian Launch of the International Year for the World's Indigenous People. It is known as the Redfern Speech. Some people say it is one of the most inspiring and courageous speeches of any Australian Prime Minister.

You can read the entire transcript of Paul Keating's Redfern speech here. Take good note of the imagery his words weave. Keating isn't a particularly inspiring orator - most Australians will tell you that. But this speech illustrates that anyone (even a person who wasn't that highly regarded by the Australian population) can deliver a message that inspires others to want to change. Especially when given by someone who passionately believes that the suggestion they are making will have a powerful, positive impact.

Here is a 4-minute extract from the speech

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