Leading Brilliant Change
by James "Alex" Alexander
Is your organization trying to:
  • Get product sellers to stop giving away services?
  • Transition your technical experts into trusted advisors?
  • Transform your company from product-centered to services-led?
  • Take some other important new direction?
As you know, or will soon find out, all of these examples fit the category of "significant change," and thus require new mindsets, skills, and behaviors of the folks being impacted.

Do you dread leading, managing, and/or directing this change? You may have heard that:
  • Important change takes three to five years, or more. Change is really hard.
  • People may revolt and some will quit.
  • Chaos may ensue.
  • People really, really hate change.
Yes, important change is not easy--it will take some time, and some people may not like it. However, the oft-spoke truism that people hate change is flat wrong.

Think about it: If that were true, people around the world would own automobiles like those driven in Havana today! Driving a 1957 Chevy would be the norm, because if people dreaded change, they'd keep the car they have and just fix it when it breaks. How about flat screen televisions? Millions of people are buying (changing) televisions when they have "perfectly good" ones at home. Where is all this resistance to change we hear about? Finally, think about a time when you were offered a big promotion. Did you turn it down because it meant that you would have to make all kinds of changes, such as requisitioning new furniture to fit your larger office, ordering new business cards to reflect your new importance, and adjusting your spending habits to accommodate a new, heftier paycheck?

True, these personal examples are a bit tongue in cheek, yet the fundamental tenets of personal change are the same—people don't resist change per se, they are "change neutral." In fact, they readily embrace what they view as "good" change, but they resist (sometimes quite tenaciously) what they see as "bad" change.

Figure 1, The Personal Change Meter, looks at four of the key dimensions people consider (consciously or unconsciously) when evaluating change that impacts their level of support or resistance. Adding up the scores gives a crude indicator of change "goodness."
Figure 1: Personal Change Meter
Faulty Thinking Rationality Makes Clear Sense
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
No Trust Commitment Believe
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
Penalties Fairness Balanced
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
Pain Value Gain
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
Below are examples of the range of mindset in each of the four dimensions, along with tips on how to turn the bad into good.
Rationality: Does It Make Sense?
Good Change: Yes, the world is flat, our market is changing, we need to do something, and these new initiatives make clear sense. I get it. Or...

Bad Change: Cripes sakes, who thought this one up? Why in the world would we do this now? Is this just a ploy to set us up to be sold and make the executives rich?

Quick Tips to Move the Meter to the Right: Make sure that you have a logic path supported by facts and figures to make your case. Provide industry examples to build credibility. Get the word out.
Commitment: Will Management Follow-Through?
Good Change: I believe that our management team is truly committed and will do everything possible to make us successful, even when times are tough. Or...

Bad Change: Yeah, I've heard this before. Just wait. If sales dip for 90 days I bet this becomes just another program-of-the-month, and we are back to business as usual.

Quick Tips to Move the Meter to the Right: If you and your management have a good record of following through, then make reference to those times. If not, build and communicate a detailed plan that demonstrates that the changes are well thought out, resources are being allocated, and success measures are being put in place. Look and publicize wins, and communicate "zero tolerance" for those not playing by the new rules. For example, everyone will take notice of what happens to the top product seller who blows out his overall sales goal but doesn't make his services quota. Does he still make the President's Club, or is he put on probation? Appropriate actions shout commitment.
Fairness: Is It Fair to the Customer, My Peers, and Me?
Good Change: It appears balanced and reasonable to all key stakeholders. Or...

Bad Change: Boy, it looks as though XX are really getting a bad deal in this. They are really paying a big price compared to everyone else.

Quick Tips to Move the Meter to the Right: Do an impact analysis of all those affected, and then think about how you can make adjustments that people will see as being more reasonable. Fairness counts.
Value: How Good a Deal Is It for Me?
Good Change: Wow! What a personal opportunity to broaden my skills, become more marketable, make more money. Or...

Bad Change: This is scary. I don't know if I can do what they are talking about. I don't think I'll like it. This could be a real hassle. This looks like a lot of work.

Quick Tips to Move the Meter to the Right: The first three factors are important, but they shrink in comparison to this last factor. Remember that people use facts to justify doing things they want to do. Recognize that people will work for gain but fight to retain, so make sure you start by telling people what will stay the same before telling them what will change. Work really hard to demonstrate how people will benefit from what is new, but try not to take away something of value. If you want people to change behavior remember that this is a selling job--point out the what, the why, and the benefits. And be prepared to communicate it again and again.

Leading change does not have to be a painful ordeal. Use the Personal Change Meter to help make all change good change.
James "Alex" Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps product companies build brilliant service businesses. Contact him at 239-671-0740 or alex@alexanderstrategists.com.
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