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Prescription – How to get others to change

Getting others to change is one of the most difficult (and arguably most impossible) tasks any of us can take on. And yet, each of us possess a list of people in our professional and personal lives that we want to change. Change is hard. Changing others is harder. The reality is that no one can really change another person, but what we can do is motivate, inspire, prod, guide and incent others to change. The process by which we assist others to change can be boiled down to these critical steps:

Step 1: Get them uncomfortable with the status quo

As John Kotter (the well-known change guru at Harvard) points out, there must be a sufficient level of urgency up front before others are ready to change. As we discussed earlier this month, there are two types of urgency designed to get others uncomfortable with the status quo:

Urgency Type 1: “You are going to die” – This form of urgency is equivalent to laying out a “worst case scenario.” It is extremely powerful in shaking people out of their patterns and forcing them to overcoming their fears. This version of urgency entails that you hit them right between the eyes with quickly approaching doom and gloom. The trick to creating anxiety and heightened urgency utilizing this approach is to be sure to also attach a short time horizon to get them moving sooner than later.

Urgency Type 2: “You can have everything you’ve always wanted… if you hurry” – This second type of urgency paints a vision of great things happening if we act now, but the longer we wait, the more likely it is that this perfect vision will slip through our fingers forever. You often see this approach used when organizations are trying to change their strategy or enter into a new market. A short time horizon also increases the effectiveness of this approach.

If you really want to get the urgency levels up, consider walloping them with both types of urgency in the same conversation to ensure they are sufficiently uncomfortable. It’s at that point of discomfort and heightened anxiety that they are ready for a plan.

Step 2: Give them a plan

Whether you are trying to change the 20-something living in your basement or a group of employees that need to be convinced to reinvent themselves, you’ll need to make change as easy as possible. In other words, you’re going to have to come prepared to offer a step-by-step “easy to do” plan.

The makings of a good change plan

A good change plan doesn’t need to be complex, but there are some important attributes that should be present. Consider the following (for more on change plans, check out this post):

Step by step – a good plan should look like a board game (remember those?). It should be a step by step process. Sounds simple enough, but imagine if you didn’t do that? I see consultants and MBA students alike make this horrific mistake. Make sure you simplify the plan to a “one step at a time” approach. Make it easy to ensure steady progress.

Measurable actions THEN measurable results – Second, all steps in your plan should have something measurable to gauge progress. However, depending on the degree of difficulty, you might need to focus first on measuring behaviors and later measure results. After all, results often lag behaviors and sometimes by a lot.

Target short-term wins – John Kotter, the change guru from Harvard, is a big fan of short-term wins. So am I. Set up your plan so that the first goal is short and easy to attain. Get the momentum high early on so you can keep it going.

Step 3: Cheer them on

In order to keep the momentum moving and to ensure those attempting change stay on the path, you’ll need to become a master cheerleader. You’ll need to be thoughtful about what and when you celebrate. Consider focusing on the following areas for your celebratory efforts:

Celebrate short-term wins – One common “best practice” in any change initiative is to establish and celebrate short-term wins. In other words, even though you may see the entire process taking a year or longer until real success is achieved, your job is to set short very attainable milestones so those making the change know they are making progress.

Celebrate behaviors – While it’s important to celebrate the overall progress and milestones that are being achieved, it is equally important to celebrate the behaviors that you see on a daily basis. This can range from seeing someone embrace change with a positive attitude to noticing that office curmudgeon actually try.

A Final Step

There is one final change step that I have yet to mention. It may be the most important of all of the change steps we’ve outlined and by far it is one of the most difficult to pull off. Here it is: You have to love others into change. “What are you talking about?” you say. “I do not want to ‘love’ my co-workers.” Let me explain. We all know the difference when someone is trying to “shape us up” or “manipulate us” versus someone who truly wants the very best for us and cares about us unconditionally. Call that “unconditional positive regard” as the famous psychologist Carl Rogers outlined or call it love. Either way, you need feel nothing but “good stuff” for those you are trying to change if you expect them to believe you and trust you. After all, they are the ones venturing into the unknown, not you. They are scared. They are going to make mistakes. They don’t want or need someone who they believe is going to judge them. So if you can find it in your heart to love them into change, you’ll be amazed at how much more receptive they will be to you and your suggestions.

With that, go forth and change the hearts and minds of others. Who knows? You might just change the world in the process.

 

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Getting others to change: cheer them on

If you’ve been following the posts this month, we’re on a mission to get others to change. No easy task. We’ve already laid out the ways to get the urgency rate high and we’ve followed that up with a step-by-step action plan. So our work is done right? Wrong. Just because those individuals we are attempting to change are off working the change plan we’ve provided, it doesn’t mean we are “out of the woods” just yet. We need to ensure they stick to the plan and that requires monitoring and maintenance. But more than that, it requires a level of cheerleading and celebrating that you are probably not used to. So, in essence, I’m saying that you might need to change (how ironic).

Why cheerlead?

Here’s your “why” as it relates to enhancing your cheerleading efforts. Actually there are two big reasons why you need to become a master motivator and a “pom pom” promoter. First, you are asking others to do something that is completely unnatural to him or her. They are likely behaving, acting and thinking in a way that feels awkward, clumsy and unnerving. In their minds, the new efforts they are attempting must not be right because they “feel” wrong. Second, in absence of communication, people always assume the worst. Couple those two things together and the result is that if you aren’t providing constant positive feedback and encouragement, those attempting to change will assume their efforts are ineffective and they will quickly default back to old habits. This reminds me of a coaching client I had several years ago. After making some significant changes on how he interacted with his peers and senior leadership, he received rave reviews on his incredible turnaround. When asked by H.R. what made the difference, he said, “I don’t really know. It doesn’t really make sense to me. All I know is its working.” Don’t expect them to understand the mechanics of the changes they are making. What matters more is that you keep them moving down the path.

Celebrate short-term wins

So, how do you keep them moving down the path? One common “best practice” in any change initiative is to establish and celebrate short-term wins. In other words, even though you may see the entire process taking a year or longer until real success is achieved, your job is to set short very attainable milestones so those making the change know they are making progress. Here are some approaches you can consider that come right out of old-school motivational playbooks:

  • Contests – create contests that either reward the entire group or pit teams against each other to see who can get to the goal faster. Contests work. It’s that simple.
  • Thermometers – old-school, yes, but highly effective. Create a visual “thermometer” that can be used to show progress. As goals are met, color off that portion of the thermometer until ultimately you’ve colored in the entire thermometer.

Just remember that you can have too many contests. As a very successful GM of a high-end luxury retailer told me, “having the right contests in place is an art. You want to reward all of the right behaviors, both individually and as teams, and know that too many contests can dilute your overall efforts until eventually nothing works.” Choose wisely.

Celebrate behaviors

While it’s important to celebrate the overall progress and milestones that are being achieved, it is equally important to celebrate the behaviors that you see on a daily basis. This can range from seeing someone embrace change with a positive attitude to noticing that office curmudgeon actually try. Consider the following individual-focused cheerleading efforts:

  • Symbolic rewards – I remember the story of a CEO who was looking to reward an employee for embracing change. The CEO was so excited to give the employee “something” as a reward he grabbed the first thing he could off of his desk and give it to the employee. It just so happens that that “something” was a banana. Soon that story took off inside the organization and the “banana pin” was created to reward employees for their effort and attitude. What is your “banana”?
  • “I’m proud of you” – There are probably few phrases more powerful than this one. We all long for someone to tell us they are proud of us and frankly it is one of those phrase we can never get enough of it. Yet, we believe somehow we are being condescending or inappropriate when we give it to others. I had an executive coach colleague of mine have that very reaction. She said to me, “Isn’t that patronizing or condescending to tell someone I am proud of them? I would much rather stay at a professional distance.” I responded by saying to her, “O.k. I see your point but let’s set up a hypothetical example. Let’s say you just achieved a major goal that you had been working on for months. Would you rather me say to you, ‘Sounds like you are pleased with your results. Good for you’ or would you rather hear me say ‘I’m really proud of you’.” Without hesitating, she said, “I get it. I feel the difference.” Don’t hesitate to tell those going through the change process that you are proud of them. It will be music to their ears and a symphony to their soul.

You get the idea. Change is tough. We need to walk along side cheering those who are making the efforts to change not only to ensure their success but also to keep them on the path. If we don’t, we’ll look up one day and realize we are the only ones still left.

 

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Getting others to change: give them a plan

Our challenge this month is how do we to get others to change. In my previous post we focused on the first critical step in any change effort – establishing a compelling “why.” If you’ve successfully completed this first task, you probably have some uncomfortable and anxious folks on your hands. It’s at this point that you want to quickly swoop in with a step-by-step action plan for them to take hold of so they can release their anxiety on something productive. If you don’t, who knows what can happen.

Fred, The Layoff King

When we first met, Fred was approaching his 80th birthday. Despite his aging appearance, Fred still had that CEO aura about him. His career had been fascinating. Fred started off as a paratrooper in the military and eventually graduated from an ivy league school with an MBA. Fred went on to dedicate his whole career to turning around struggling companies. He would swoop into a dying company, apply some sophisticated “CPR” tactics and would eventually pull the company away from the brink. His most impressive professional lifetime accomplishment was that he was 24 for 24 in turning around struggling companies. In other words, every company he took over went on to live a long life after his resuscitation. So you might expect me to tell you one of his amazing corporate change stories. No. Instead, I’m going to tell you about what Fred was most proud of in his professional career. As Fred put it, he had to lay off “thousands” of employees as a turnaround CEO, and not one time did Fred ever get sued. Not once. Fred’s secret was simple. When Fred had to lay-off an employee, he would sit the employee down, give him or her the bad news (Fred was good. He had already had multiple performance conversations so this final conversation did not come as a shock to the employee) and then say to him or her, “Now, I want you to go back to your desk and don’t tell anyone what has happened. Not your family, friends or co-workers. Just think about what you want to do next and in 2 hours come back to my office and we are going to work on a career plan for you.” Fred was smart. He understood that when he ripped out someone’s job from under him or her, he had in essence created a heightened level of instability and anxiety. As Fred noticed throughout his career, “without a plan, employees would go home tell their family about the lay-off, get worked up and by Monday there was a law suit waiting for the employer.” But with a plan, he gave the former employee something productive to execute. Not one lawsuit against Fred his entire career – not many turnaround CEO’s can say that.

The makings of a good change plan

A good change plan doesn’t need to be complex, but there are some important attributes that should be present. Whether we are trying to get a relative to move out of the house or get an entire organization to change its focus, consider some of these essential components to any good plan:

  1. Step by step – a good plan should look like a board game (remember those?). It should be a step by step process. Sounds simple enough, but imagine if you didn’t do that? I see consultants and MBA students alike make this horrific mistake. They throw up five important actions that the client needs to start doing with no priority or order essentially saying, “You need to do all of these things now. Good luck with that.” If we were to use a not-so-different analogy, consider for a moment that you were trying to get someone who is 200lbs. overweight to lose weight. The last thing you would want to say would be: “You need to change what you eat, reduce the amount of what you eat, work out 5 times a week for at least an hour a day, stop watching television, go to bed earlier, don’t eat after 8:00pm, etc…” They would just look at you blankly, get up and walk over to the fridge for a snack. Make sure you simplify the plan to a “one step at a time” approach. Make it easy to ensure steady progress.
  2. Measurable actions THEN measurable results – Second, all steps in your plan should have something measurable to gauge progress. However, depending on the degree of difficulty, you might need to focus first on measuring behaviors and later measure results. After all, results often lag behaviors and sometimes by a lot. For example, going back to our overweight “client,” we would first focus on measuring how long he or she walked on the treadmill each day. What we would not do is first focus on weight loss. We would concentrate our efforts on behavior change knowing that the weight loss result will come later. If you’ve ever seen the T.V. show “The Biggest Loser,” you know that some weeks the weight doesn’t come off despite the hard work the participants put forth. That doesn’t mean they (or we) shouldn’t keep doing the hard work. Behaviors first, results later.
  3. Target short-term wins – John Kotter, the change guru from Harvard, is a big fan of short-term wins. So am I. Set up your plan so that the first goal is short and easy to attain. Get the momentum high early in the process so you can keep it going. Showing progress quickly and often is critical to ensuring your “client” stays on the change path.

There you have it, the makings of an effective change plan. As I said before it isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. Just be thoughtful to include the right ingredients to ensure an “easy to adopt” and “easy to maintain” plan of action. After all, the refrigerator is always calling.

 

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Getting others to change: start with a compelling “why”

Getting others to change is no easy task. Whether we are talking about one person or a whole organization, if we want to increase the probability of successful change we have to start the right way. John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor and the guru of change, recommends that any good change effort should start with a high level of urgency. In essence, what Kotter is suggesting is that we need to give a compelling “why” that will serve to overcome any resistance we may face. In this post, I’m going to offer to you some practical ways to craft the perfect “why” in order to lay the foundation for successful change.

A compelling “Why”

A good “why” or reason for change should have sound logic and a strong emotional tug. Getting people to change is akin to getting an addict to break from his or her addiction. You won’t get there with logic alone. You’ll need to throw in a healthy dose of emotion to get them feeling suitably uncomfortable. Many forms of emotion can work: sadness, fear, anger, worry, etc… However, there is one emotional lever that has the highest probability of success: anxiety. In essence, anxiety is urgency. Your goal is create a compelling why that leaves the person feeling so uncomfortable, so anxious, that they want to do “something” and they want to do that “something” right now. It’s at that moment that they are ready to hear your plan for action. So, how do we establish urgency? Consider the following two types of urgency.

Urgency Type 1: “You are going to die”

This form of urgency is equivalent to laying out a “worst case scenario.” It is extremely powerful in shaking people out of their patterns and forcing them to overcoming their fears. After all, what’s worse than some version of death? With this approach, your goal is to lay out a picture of impending doom. Perhaps that doom takes the form of the organization falling off of the proverbial cliff and ceasing to exist unless something is done soon. Or perhaps it takes the form of impending job loss if the individual doesn’t change. Or perhaps it paints a picture of the individual losing something else precious to him or her (family, friends, followers, etc…). Regardless of what you choose, this version of urgency entails that you hit them right between the eyes with quickly approaching storms. The trick to creating anxiety and heightened urgency utilizing this approach is to be sure to also attach a short time horizon. For example, I could say to you “you are going to die if you don’t change.” In response, you might say, “we’ll yeah, we are all going to die one day.” However, if I said to you, “you are going to die in 30 days if you don’t change now” all of a sudden, you are bit more interested in what I have to say.

Occasionally, I have to utilize this technique with clients. Consider “Tonya,” a client of mine several years ago. Tonya had taken on a big role that had tripled her work load, and she was not handling her new responsibilities well. She was yelling at her direct reports, she regularly locked herself in her office to avoid distractions and she wasn’t doing any of the actions I had prescribed her. She was failing miserably and things were coming to a head. At our next meeting, it finally came time to have the conversation.  I said to her, “Tonya, it has come to my attention that if you don’t change, you are going to be fired in 30 days. Do you understand what I am saying? Repeat back to me what I just said so I know you know how serious this is.” Her eyes became as big as marbles as the gravity of the situation finally hit her. Change had begun.

One caution with this approach: too much doom and gloom can lead to paralysis. If you tip too far and put it on too thick, it can appear that the situation has gotten too out of control or it is simply too late to take it on. A little bit of this “hot sauce” goes a long way.

Urgency Type 2: “You can have everything you’ve always wanted… if you hurry”

This second type of urgency paints a vision of great things happening if we act now, but the longer we wait, the more likely it is that this perfect vision will slip through our fingers forever. You often see this approach used when organizations are trying to change their strategy or enter into a new market. Leaders will set out a vision of an untapped market that is a wonderful land of eager customers and high margins as far as the eye can see. But wait, competitors are starting to pay attention. The time is now to make the move. While this approach is a fantastic tool for leaders, you don’t have to be a leader of an organization to use it effectively. You could use the same approach to get another person to change their role or approach within the team in order to increase their value and importance. I utilize this same approach when I’m coaching young professionals that deeply want to make a career change but are afraid of the change required. I tell them, “my experience has been that if you make this change now, you can have the career you’ve always wanted. However, I’ve also noticed that by age 38, the window of opportunity slams shut. By that age you have family obligations, greater career responsibilities, a more defined career path, etc… Your clock is ticking so you better move now.” It reminds them that there are seasons for opportunity and sometimes you have to act in the face of fear if you truly want something.

Hit ‘em with everything you’ve got

The very best change agents are masters at combining both forms of urgency into one message to ensure the message sticks. Combining both urgency types is the equivalent of your doctor prescribing you a strong antibiotic as well as a steroid to ensure you knock out that nasty infection. So, consider packing an extra punch by combining both forms of urgency. Illustrate the impending doom if one does not change as well as the potential wonders that await him or her if they change right now. A powerful combination to be sure.

As a good mentor of mine would say, “Change is hard, what is the easiest way we can get there.” He couldn’t me more right. However, don’t confuse “easy” with “comfortable.” If you want to get others ready to take action, you’ve got to get the urgency rate as well as their level of discomfort high enough that they want to take action, but they just don’t know how. Anxiety and urgency are uncomfortable itches that we all desperately want to scratch when we feel them. Next up: how you bring a plan of action to scratch that itch.

Until then, consider this wonderful clip of Indiana Jones illustrating the power of establishing urgency. I don’t think I would want to stick my hand in there.  Then again, we normally don’t have spikes flying at us at work…

 

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“How do I get others to change?”

Are you facing one of the most challenging tasks in the history of mankind – to get other people to change? Whether you need to get your employees, your colleagues, your client or your family members to change, getting others to change is just plain hard. Unfortunately, this challenging task is becoming more and more common place as the world around us is evolving at such an exponential rate. Industries that have traditionally attracted people who are “change averse” are facing huge mandates – change or die. Think of healthcare, education, government, retail, traditional publishing, television / radio, etc… Heck, you name it and the industry is likely facing some kind of huge paradigm shift… all right now.

How can you smile?

A few weeks ago I was having this very discussion as part of a class I was teaching for a group of Executive MBA students from Austria who were visiting the States. During the breaks, one of the participants came up to me with a very serious and distressed look on his face. He set his gaze on me and sternly asked, “With all of this change in the world, how can you be smiling?” Other than generally being a “smiley” guy, I did have a good reason for smiling at that moment. My response was simple. I said to him, “You are correct. The world is changing at a speed and pace that no one can predict or know, nor have we ever seen such a pace of change throughout history. So, as I see it, we have two options. We can let the change happen to us and react to it or resist it. Or we can be the authors of that change. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the author of the world I want to live in rather than have someone else decide that for me.” His reaction? He smiled and walked off.

Authoring change

This month is about helping you to author that change and to persuade others to follow you. Amongst other things, we’ll be talking about some of the fundamental elements of getting anyone to change, from our most senior employee who is set in his / her ways to our eldest child who still lives at home well after they should. To that end, this month we’ll tackle:

  • How do you create a compelling vision for change?
  • What are the best ways to light a fire under others and create urgency?
  • What’s the best way and time to deliver an action plan for others to follow?
  • How and when do we support others while they take on change?

Change is hard. Change is even harder when we have no real control over the people we are trying to change. We have to cajole, persuade, convince and inspire to get others to face some of their greatest fears and make that leap of faith. In the end, we have to make such a compelling case that they see our path as the only one. Hold on for a crash course on people change 101.

My goal this month is simple: By the end of the month, I want you to come out prepared to author the future of the world in which we live. Ambitious enough for you?