Because of that, leaders tasked with business transformation projects need to examine how people perceive the proposed change early in the project. Left unmanaged, negative perceptions will become the reality for some employees. For example, enterprise technology implementations haven’t always delivered the promised ROI due to unmanaged expectations, resulting in lower adoption and higher failure rates than anticipated.
Manage Perceptions Early and Often
But that doesn’t have to be your fate. Through effective and targeted communications, you can guide people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It might sound like a trick, but it isn’t. It’s about using clear, well-crafted and targeted messages that connect the company’s value proposition to the employee. If you don’t use them, people will begin to conjecture and reach conclusions that cause fear and skepticism, not acceptance or enthusiasm.
To get started with perception management, McKinsey advises that you think about how complicated the change will be so you’ll be better able to address people’s perceptions before they become reality. It’s a critical step; McKinsey says you’ll only get buy-in if employees “see the point of the change and agree with it--at least enough to give it a try.”
Guide the Mind, Guide the Behavior
Changing a negative perception isn’t easy, so it’s important to communicate facts clearly and often. It requires a four-fold approach consisting of purpose, reinforcement, skills training, and role models. All four elements are essential. Miss one, and change will only last a short time. Use all four, and long-lasting and effective change will spread across the organization.
- Purpose relates to “why” and “what’s in it for me.” It’s an anchor that people can hold onto during the transition from one state of being to another. They see where they’re going and have been given a plan for how they’re going to get there.
- Reinforcement addresses formal programs, metrics, incentives, and rewards. If change is made into a fun exercise rather than a scary or even boring task, people will be more willing to embrace it.
- Skills training is essential to getting people over the fear factor. They have the tools; they need to know how to use them. For employees who are already fairly tech-savvy, give them opportunities to work with others and pass along tips and techniques--it’ll keep them involved.
- Role models give people someone to follow. It’s peer pressure at its finest. It can also be aspirational. Employees will want to change their behaviors because they see how their coworkers are performing and leading in the company.
With those four pieces integrated, you’ll see mindsets and behaviors change. Towers Watson reports, “Organizations that manage both change and communication effectively are 3.5 times as likely as other organizations to report that they significantly outperform their peers financially [...] because they focus on the fundamental levers known to drive success; pay careful attention to employees; and train managers to be catalysts for change.”
Address the Resistance
People resist change for a rational reason--at least, it’s rational to them. They don’t do it because they hate the company or despise your leadership. They do it because their perception - their reality - makes perfect sense to them.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to get a few leaders within the end user community involved early. Listen to why they’re hesitant to change, and solve for their problems. The reasons vary, but these three are relatively common.
- Loss of control. When change happens, people can feel out of control. Give people achievable goals, chances for autonomy and success. The more ownership and responsibility they have, the more likely they are to feel in control and comfortable with moving toward a new way of working.
- Fear of the unknown. A little uncertainty makes for an adventure; a lot of uncertainty makes for fear. Gauge the threshold. Generally, it’s better to opt for as little uncertainty as possible. Communicate everything, and have an accessible change management plan in place.
- Loss of reputation. People can fear losing respect if they’re associated with the “old process.” Highlight what was done well in the past and focus on the fact that change is innovation. It means staying competitive and having jobs for people in the future.
Finally, remember that you and your employees view change differently. Says Paul Strebel, Harvard Business Review contributor, “Top-level managers see change as an opportunity to strengthen the business by aligning operations with strategy.” However, for many employees and middle managers, change is “disruptive and intrusive. It upsets the balance.”
If you can keep that fact in mind, you’re more likely to successfully transform your business on time and on budget because technology isn’t the battle to win. Neither are the processes. The battle to win is perception, and to do that you have to listen to employees’ perspectives and give them proper reinforcement, training, and role models. That’s how you overcome resistance and realize the outcomes you seek--new workflows and digital tools being adopted and embraced.
Images: Alan O’Rourke (Creative Commons)