In one of the first cultural change projects that I worked on, I was tasked with teaching company members process improvement and critical thinking skills. The organization was committed to involving everyone in improving their processes and making a difference in the way they served customers with increased efficiency. Individuals were to learn and apply the skills to their jobs and to make any needed improvements.
I will never forget the day that one company member raised his hand and asked, “Why do we need to do this? This is a waste of our time!” What was ironic about this statement was that only a few months previously, the organization had lost a major client because of their inability to be competitive in providing products and services.
Any time an organization undertakes a change, there are a number of questions that individuals tend to ask themselves. If those questions are not answered by those initiating and leading the change effort, then people will unfortunately answer them for themselves in a negative way. The answers to these questions are critical in determining if people will give their hearts and minds to the proposed changes. Failure to answer these questions for those impacted by the change creates resistance and a lack of engagement.
Here are six key questions that you need to ask and answer when proposing a change, not only for yourselves but also for everyone else in the organization. In order to successfully adopt and sustain the proposed change, answers to these questions need to become part of your message.
Why are we doing this?
This is a very important question because it defines the purpose for the change. It should include both the big picture as well as smaller details. It also encompasses all the messages that your environment is sending. It’s easy to become so narrowly preoccupied with the work in front of us that we miss some of the outlying details. For example, in the situation above, the company knew what their competition was doing, but they didn’t think that it would make much of a difference to them or their clients. When their customer was attracted to the cheaper rates and the quicker service, this organization lost the client that they had taken for granted. They were forced to play catch up in order to not lose any further business. This question increases a sense of purpose and trust for those in the organization as well as those leading the change.
What will success look like?
Answering this question is about creating a well-defined vision of the future. When leaders answer this question, they help their people to let go of the past and embrace and move into the future. People want to know where they are going. If they don’t have a clear picture of what the future looks like, they will hold onto the past and resist doing anything that they don’t understand. It is hard to believe what you can’t conceive, and what you can’t conceive is hard to achieve. Answering this question provides a clear vision and focus and improves individual motivation.
What role do you expect each individual to play?
The answer to this question will depend on each person and the work they perform. Providing individual plans provides a sense of direction to each person and creates accountability around those clarified expectations. Exploring this question also provides the opportunity to talk about a person’s skills and abilities to do the work that they are expected to do. Clarifying each role lessens frustration and insecurity about each person’s responsibilities while increasing personal engagement in the process.
How will people know how they are doing?
This question addresses the measures that will be put in place and the feedback that will be provided on a regular basis. This question also forces leadership to clearly identify what the indicators of success are, as well as how progress is to be reported. People want to know how they are doing, and they are generally willing to make the course corrections that are necessary to be successful. Because we usually only get what we measure, this question allows you to do some serious reflection about how you will measure progress and how those measures are tied to what you are trying to accomplish. The answer to this question increases individual discretionary effort and increases execution.
What is in it for each person?
Aside from making the argument that people get to keep their jobs, this question addresses the rewards and recognition associated with all of the new changes that are being implemented. This question could be interpreted as, “Is the pain to be experienced really worth the effort that I have to put forth to make this change?” You can see how important it would be to answer this question. If you don’t answer it, then the individual will answer it negatively and will not see the value in making a change. Individuals look for opportunities to grow and develop and they want to be rewarded for their efforts. Spending some time addressing this question helps the individual understand that their participation is worth the effort. The clarification of reward specifics will increase motivation, enhance personal engagement, and invite individual effort.
Will they have your support?
Not only do people want to know where they can go to find the resources to accomplish the work, they also want to know that you have their back. If whatever you are asking them to do doesn’t work, they don’t want to be blamed for doing what they were asked to do. Learning from what didn’t work and making course corrections while providing encouragement and support is important to making your change effort successful. Making a firm statement of support and demonstrating your commitment to the change will increase an individual’s commitment, involvement, and sense of responsibility.
Undertaking change is never easy, but you should realize some of the questions that are going through people’s minds. Failure to answer these questions slows down any change initiative and could bring it to a grinding halt. Once you have formulated the answers to these questions, create a communications strategy that you continually broadcast to your people. Be sure to address many of the questions on an individual basis recognizing the unique individuality that each person brings to the work that they do. Holding conversations that will help individuals understand and embrace the change that you are implementing will increase your chance of success.
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