Human beings are wired to cling to what is familiar and comfortable. Yet change is inherently about the unknown and requires shifts in behaviors (and often habit). At the same time, large‐scale change sends about 80 percent of your employees into some degree of discomfort, unease, anxiety, stress, fear, pain, or denial. This poses a significant challenge for leaders.
A heightened sense of urgency among a critical mass of employees around a common opportunity or objective is vital prior to any attempt to implement change. When change is 'pushed' out on employees, most often they will push back. That is human nature. When employees do not see the reason or need for change, or understand the compelling business case, they often fear or resent change. Even worse, they may deliberately sabotage or derail change efforts.
Often senior leaders identify a new opportunity, goal or strategy that will propel the organization to the next level a greatness. As leaders, this opportunity and the compelling business case as to why becomes crystal clear. Once this direction or strategy is identified, in most cases mid-level managers and supervisors are tasked with making the change a reality. These managers begin to implement tactics and strategies to advance progress toward the desired outcomes. What they typically discover is push back, cynicism, apathy and lack of engagement from those they lead.
In order to break through this resistance consider this one simple proven notion: Opportunity before strategy. By first creating urgency and alignment around the opportunity or possibilities, leaders will find they are able to connect to not only the head (logic) of those they lead, but more importantly to the heart (passion). Tactics and strategies will never engage the heart. Lack of creating urgency is another major de‐railers of change efforts. It is vital that leaders gain buy‐in and engagement. That is only achieved by engaging the heart. This results in voluntary contributions of discretionary performance. Employees will tap into their full potential and go above and beyond when they are fully engaged.
When we speak of creating urgency among a critical mass, we are not suggesting to spending an inordinate amount of time gaining consensus amongst everyone. Leaders must leverage those that 'see what we see' as leaders (the opportunity and the possibilities) to encourage others to join us. In other words, develop and foster a 'want‐to' culture versus a 'have‐to' culture.
A great example of this is Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. That speech created true urgency and engaged a critical mass. The civil rights legislation that followed a few years later provided the strategy and the tactics to accomplish the opportunity. Do you feel things may have been different the day of the speech if Dr. King spent the time assigning tasks, assembling change teams, and introducing flow charts and processes for change? That speech focused on the opportunity. It was the vision of a better tomorrow.
Getting a critical mass to see the opportunity that you see is not easy. But there are a few key practices that can help. The first: You can never ever over communicate the opportunity or vision. The second: You can never ever over communicate the opportunity or vision. You must resist the temptation to jump into execution of strategy before you have created true urgency.
It is difficult for people to let go of what they believe to be true in their mind. Employees will cling to what they know - their realties. If the 'truth' or 'reality' for your employees is that there is no need to change, what impact will that have on your efforts? Simply communicating your change vision or picture of success to launch and effort will not provide the thrust needed to engage a critical mass or create enough urgency to assure success. The message must be communicated and reinforced often and through a variety of channels.
This is the fourth part of a six-part series. Read all six parts:
1. How to Lead Change and Accelerate Achievement
2. Leading and Managing Change
3. How to Be a Change Leader
4. How to Get Employees to Embrace Change
5. The Power of Volunteerism
6. How to Create a Culture of Winning
Mike Evans is a best-selling author/speaker and Managing Partner of QuestMark. Over the course of his career he has worked alongside a star studded list of world-renowned thought leaders such as Dr. Stephen Covey and Tom Peters.