Leadership traps that will derail your change efforts

This article is the second in the “All Change is Personal” series looking at three traps that leaders need to manage in order to steward their organization through change efforts.  To read the first article in the series and learn what Trap #1 is, click here.

Trap #2:  Not Getting Employee Feedback on the Plan

63% of employees agree or strongly agree that the reason “change fails at our organization” is because leaders don’t listen to employees (don’t consult with employees) about how change might affect them or how change might be done more effectively.
- IHHP Survey Data

Most leaders operate from a place of good intention. Their intention is to ‘do right’ and have a positive impact both on the business and the people they lead. Most are constantly on the lookout for ways to make a difference and to make their business and people better. However, there is one crucial step missed by most leaders when trying to implement changes: They expect everyone to see the need for change and the plan for change just as they do.

We have all witnessed it: the leader arrives back from a conference they’ve just attended or has read an evocative business book, and they see how the business could be doing ‘a’ or ‘b’ in a much more effective way.  Their enthusiasm for the idea is unbridled and as a result, change is inevitable. 

The next step involves the leader working through how the plan fits within the business model and offers them a competitive advantage. They talk with other executives about the plan and get their feedback on how it can be improved. They go to board members, shareholders, other members of their executive for feedback, and most are swept away by their belief and passion.   They are leaders, after all. 

At this stage, most leaders are feeling pretty positive about the plan, yet this is where they go make a major misstep.  They allow their enthusiasm for change to get in the way of the important work of fleshing out the plan with their people. This misstep is often the biggest challenge to overcome when trying to implement a substantial change initiative

When the leader ‘unveils’ their idea to the whole organization, the expectation is that members of the organization will be excited and leave the room ready to implement. Instead, the ideas are met with blank stares. The leader may mistake shock and dismay for acceptance.   Shock and dismay eventually turn to anger and resistance. 

In their enthusiasm for the new idea, leaders do not stop long enough to include enough of their people in the crafting of the plan. They have not sought input from people upon whom it will have the greatest personal impact.

How does this happen? No matter that they started with great intention, when people are not included in the formulation of the plan, that has a significant impact on their implementation of the plan. When people have input into the formulation, there is a greater probability that they will be more committed to it when it is time to implement.

The other missing piece is that when individuals feel voiceless or when they feel like they are having something done to them as opposed to being part of the process (having a voice), it becomes personal and the emotional part of their brain goes into overdrive, moving to defend and protect.  This can cause the most elegant and well-crafted plan to go off the rails when it comes to execution.  Refer to the first article  in this series for more about the emotional part of the brain and why all change is so personal to people.

What to do?

What do we mean by including employees in the plan? Giving them voice? What it means is getting information from them about how the current situation is working or not working for them. It does mean that we hear how things could be improved without committing to specific actions at that stage of the process. It means painting a picture of how not changing is costing the company to create a sense of urgency for change.

What is doesn’t mean is mean that there will be full discussion about the change that normally occurs at the leadership level with all employees. Not only is it logistically impossible but it can cause entrenchment that can impede change. This can get people more fixated on their point of view based on their own self-interest. People can start to argue about the best way forward that favors their job or business unit as opposed to what is best for the organization.

It may even mean including a few select people who will participate in the full planning process who will represent that contingent’s point of view. It is also means getting feedback from employees as the implementation takes place so that we can improve the plan.

If a leader doesn’t understand the consequences of an employee feeling ‘voiceless’, then they will not engage them from an emotional standpoint the way that’s needed to in order to overcome the fear and resistance people naturally feel when there is change.   By focusing on the opportunities to get the right feedback at the right time and in the right way you can overcome Trap #2 and have a much stronger chance of being able to implement the change required for your organization to succeed. 

After all, all change personal!

Come back in mid-May for the third part in the All Change is Personal series, which will explore Trap #3: Leaders Not Having Enough Edge.

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