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The Secret to Making Change Stick

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

One thing most people can agree on is that change is hard, uncomfortable and many businesses do it very wrong. A large percentage of change efforts fail even before the business tries to launch the new initiative; leaving people disengaged, disgruntled and looking for a better opportunity to sweep them off their feet and bring them to greener pastures.

Here's how to make change stick and keep people energized, feeling good and happy through the process.

  1. Get crystal clear about behaviors. Define the exact change you're looking for and map it to a specific behavior. Every change no matter how small is linked directly to a behavior. What specifically do you want people to say or do? Every element of communication should be around the behavior change and the benefit to the employee. If you make it just about the business no one will care and change will be a constant struggle.

  2. Shop it around. Most businesses skip this step because it's scary. You would never launch a new product or service without first consulting your customers, so why would you launch a change effort inside the business without first consulting employees? This is critical. Let me be clear, I understand there are changes that must happen regardless of input. That said, people are brilliant (that's why you hired them) and they can help you figure out how best to roll out the message and gain support from the masses. Yes, this even includes massive change like a company reorganization. If you choose to create a change plan behind closed doors you are literally asking for it to fail.

  3. Ditch the email. When it comes to change email is your worst enemy--at least when it comes to the initial communication. Have a one-to-one conversation with everyone in the business letting them know about the change that's coming. Don't stop there. Then ask them what they think, how they feel about the change, and what the business and/or leader can do to help make the change easier? During this conversation give people the opportunity to surface questions, comments and concerns. Use this conversation to address any potential "derailers" in a constructive way. Most importantly, this conversation is about listening to people and giving them an opportunity to vent on the front end so they can support the change in the long run. If you have thousands of employees, this step will require you to leverage the leaders throughout the business to facilitate the conversations with their teams.

  4. Be transparent. When you have the initial one-to-one conversation with people be transparent. Don't hide uncomfortable details and try to avoid certain topics--the truth always comes out. If you're transparent on the front end you'll lesson the resistance to the change. If you lie people will turn into angry birds and your business will turn into a breeding ground for toxic energy. Remember, if it's not the whole story it's a lie. When it comes to change don't leave out details or try to spin the truth. If the business is transparent people may not like the change but they'll respect the approach.

  5. Follow-up. Once you've clearly defined the change and behaviors you're looking for, had transparent one-to-one conversations with everyone, and made adjustments to the change plan based on employee feedback, you can then send out a company wide email. Be careful... no surprises. This is not the time to make last minute changes. If you try to sneak in new or different information people will feel deceived and your change effort will fail. Once the email is sent follow-up (3, 4, or 5 times if need be) with everyone and check in with how they're feeling. They may have additional suggestions. Great! Take note, and incorporate those suggestions during the next change roll out.

Bottom-line: if people feel respected, valued and taken care of by the business, it's easy to make change stick because people want to support the things in life that make them feel good.

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