Most businesses recognize the importance of behavioural change techniques when they’re planning for HR changes or cultural transformations. However, accepting that every change relies on people to deliver it and will have people as the ultimate recipients, significantly increases the probability of your next change being a success.
So how do you make sure that your people are ready for the change you’ve got planned?
There are always new articles being written about how to influence people, usually based on whatever pop psychology is currently trending, but there are some core truths about behavioural change that have been the same since we learnt to walk upright. If you plan your change to take account of them, you’ll be on the right path.
Start by asking yourself these 4 questions:
1. DO THEY KNOW WHAT’S CHANGING AND HAVE THEY BEEN TRAINED?
Not knowing what to do is a well-known cause of anxiety, and anxiety… even when it’s minor, or perhaps subconscious… can lead to resistance that you want to avoid.
Full training will probably come later but if you communicate what is changing as early as possible it will go a long way to reducing anxiety, and at the very least will give those of your staff who are less comfortable with change more time to process it.
Then as you approach your implementation date consider all of the impacted groups and ask yourself if they have all of the information they need to be effective.
Do they understand any new processes you’re introducing? Do they know how your new system works and what role they’ll play?
And when you’re preparing your internal folks, don’t forget about your customers and suppliers. Is there anything they need to know? Even if you think they don’t need to know, consider if your life will be easier if they do.
Think about telling them in advance about system outages, and even warning them that you might need to switch to contingency operations. You’ll need to decide exactly how much information sharing suits your wider community, but always remember it’s better to manage expectations in advance than make excuses afterwards.
Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them.
2. DO THEY CARE?
Sure, they’re paid to do a job and they’ll probably just fall in line eventually even if they don’t care, but this is about upping your chances of success and it’s been shown time and again that people who are invested in an outcome are more likely to make a success of it.
So you’re going to have to give them a reason to care about your change. And remember the chances are high that they are driven by very different things to you.
If you’re the sponsor of a change or part of the leadership team, your focus is probably rightly on the benefits it can bring to the company and the shareholders. But research in the nineties confirmed that a cross-section of employees taken from any organization listed the same 5 main motivations:
Self, Colleagues, Customers, Society and the Company
Interestingly, all five were fairly evenly split.
A business case for change obviously has to focus on the cost / benefit to the company, but when we realize it only represents 20% of the motivation of any employee it might not be the best way to frame the story of your change.
When you’re crafting communications about the reason for change, look across all 5 dimensions and you will automatically improve how well it’s received by your audience.
The business case isn’t the story, and it’s the story that people will care about.
3.ARE THE PEOPLE AROUND THEM ONBOARD?
Humans are ultimately social creatures. We rely on social proof to help us decide what to buy or what to do, and most of the time we find it easier to go along with social norms than to be the lone voice calling for something new. (Let’s be honest, even those of us who identify as rebels tend to rebel along fairly well trodden paths!)
There’s nothing bad about that, it makes sense for an animal that lives in big groups like we do. But you can use it to help your change be a success.
Think of some of the fundamental societal shifts over the past couple of decades, like the much lower tolerance of drinking and driving. Once a critical mass embrace something and it becomes a new social norm it becomes that much harder to break it.
And that applies just as much to your change.
Find a way for those on board with your change to share the fact and you will grow a groundswell that can encourage others. Pretty soon what you have a self-reinforcing process.
If your implementation allows then identify key individuals and target them early on. Don’t be misled by titles though, it might surprise you who the real unofficial influencers in your organization are. Get these people on side and consider using them as ambassadors, if you can then give them a role in the change. It’s much harder to moan about something you were involved in!
Make it feel like a movement and people will want to be involved.
4. HAVE YOU MADE IT EASY FOR THEM TO COMPLY?
Behavioural change research has proven time and again that we’ll most often follow the path of least resistance. There’s a good reason for that: it’s not just laziness, it’s efficient.
Any dietician will tell you that if you want to eat fewer biscuits then you shouldn’t keep the biscuit tin beside your chair. Introducing just a little resistance is often enough to give us space to think and follow the path we want.
The same is true in the office.
Look for the bumps in the road that will make it difficult to behave in the way you want and remove them.
If you want your people to work in a new way then make it as easy as possible for them, and make the alternatives more difficult. This doesn’t mean punishing people who don’t comply, just tilting the playing field slightly.
Say you’ve developed a new process, have you documented it clearly so it’s easy to follow? Test it with people who weren’t involved in the design, if they trip up then rewrite it. Have you removed references to the old process? And have you given your staff somewhere they can go for support when they need it?
Make complying so easy it’s not just the easier option, it’s the only option.
Like any other change technique, the trick here is intelligent application – Obviously, if you’re installing new servers then the people aspects will be that much smaller than if you’re restructuring whole departments, but they’re still there.
To maximize the chance of your change being a success, whether it’s a simple system implementation or a company wide transformation, start with the people:
- Make sure they know everything they need to be effective
- Give them a reason why they should care
- Increase the visibility of people who are already on board
- Make it easier for them to comply than rebel
Treat every change as a behavioural change. In the end it’s all people.
Download our Business Change Framework here