Fast-growth companies know that innovation is key to continued success, whether it be creating new products or improving internal operations. One barrier to innovation, however, is people’s natural ambivalence toward—or even active resistance to—major change.
There’s no cookie-cutter method for overcoming employees’ aversion to changes. But there’s a four-step approach that truly works, says David Stauffer in an essay called “How to Win the Buy-In” in Getting People on Board (Harvard Business School Press).
- Tell it like it is. Infuse every decision with the brutal facts of reality, and commit from the outset to open, honest and complete disclosure. Full disclosure works best by going beyond data, analysis and reason; tapping into employees’ emotions is what enables a change effort to gain traction. Use compelling, vivid examples to create the energy that compels people to push along the change process.
- Break the initiative into manageable chunks. A change project can seem overwhelming to staff; mitigate those effects by breaking down the project into discrete phases or steps, complete with interim goals.
- Hear employees out. When employees resist change, they frequently do so not because they don’t understand it, but because they don’t like it—or don’t like you. It’s an emotional reaction, and you should handle it by listening and probing.
- Reverse the flow. The fatal conceit of senior management is the attempt to drive change by relying solely on top-down techniques. Consider assembling a “change implementation team” that includes lower-level employees. This team would communicate directly with senior staff to explain how their behaviours might be harming the change process.