When you’re managing change it’s obviously best if stakeholders want to follow you of their own free will, rather than being dragged into change against their will. The question is, how do you get people to want to do what they ultimately have to do?
Some people may question whether people really do have free will. I am not one of them, so let’s assume they do.
What is free will?
But when we speak of free will, we must define what we mean. We mean that people have the freedom to make individual choices that give them some control over their future, even their destiny. Some control doesn’t mean total control – there are constraints to what we can control or influence. There will be choices that are out of our range – at least for the moment.
The range of viable choices is different for different people, because some people have more change capacity than others, and people value different things. And it also depends on what the person can see.
4 key issues
So, we have identified 3 key issues – what people can see (their awareness), what they value (the benefits they could derive from a change), and what they are capable of (their power to succeed). To this list we should add another – their ability to trust the people who lead them into change.
So, we end up with 4 issues – awareness, benefits, capacity, trust. How do we build these 4 issues into our change plans to enhance change readiness?
Let’s look again at the 5 key change readiness messages we have spoken of in other places. In the table below, you see the 5 messages and how they relate to the 4 issues referred to above.
We have a problem or opportunity
We have a solution that can work
We will be better off after the change
We will fully support you through the change
We can do this together
Shaping the environment
To some extent, change managers and leaders can manipulate the environment so it becomes easier for stakeholders to want change and feel it is safe to do so. That’s why these 5 change messages are so important and should be repeated over again. Some people need to hear them more than others – usually it is those with lower change fitness.
And as we have said before, these 5 messages need to be true. You will lose people’s trust if you can’t keep your word. So, as a change leader, you should ensure you have the backing of more senior leaders. If you don’t and you make promises you can’t keep, stakeholders will learn not to trust what you say, and the organisation’s culture will suffer. So, you need to get this right.
Manage both directions
Finally, managing change means managing in both directions – down and up. You need to raise the awareness of those you lead and of those who lead you. Your role is to shape both environments, because you are the change leader and change specialist.