The idea of managing change and understanding the nuances of how to guide people through transition seems to be a pressing issue for many leaders. There are some basic elements to remember that can help the process run more smoothly. These elements are also the foundation to embedding a long-lasting change.
Engage in the process early.
Whenever you are handling change within an individual, it’s imperative to remember that people are more committed to the things that they participate in creating. This is the first step to consider in any change. If you haven’t engaged people early in the change process – in a valuable way – then it’s likely they will be resistant.
Let’s say you have a person on your team who talks too much. They continuously use too many words when fewer would do. You get impatient, and the rest of the team grasped the main point within the first 30 seconds of the 5-minute monologue. It’s a time-waster and annoying. You are also concerned that clients may be feeling the same emotion when this individual has external-facing interactions. Is it building a barrier between them and your employee, weakening the relationship and putting the business at risk?
So, what can you do about it?
Hoping it’ll go away is a wish, not a plan. You must first make the individual aware of the issue. Do they know they do this? Have you mentioned it in the past? Awareness of the matter is undoubtedly the first step, but it doesn’t end there. They must also be made aware of the impact their behavior has on the situation at hand. Other than being bothersome, their response is having an impact on time management for others, making their communication less effective. For some, it can dilute the message they are trying to communicate; for others, it can create frustration to hear the same message rehashed many times. To be motivated to act, the impact must have consequences. It can’t just be something important to you or the rest of the team. If it doesn’t matter to the individual, then no change will occur.
Ask smart questions.
It is much more impactful to draw out insights through questioning than it is to provide “advice.” Asking questions can help guide self-awareness. Questions like, “Do you know that you frequently repeat yourself in meetings?” or “Have you noticed how others react when you speak with them?” can provide critical information. Plus, answers to these questions will help you determine if they understand the negative consequences of their actions. At that point, the individual needs to articulate what they think they can do about the issue at hand. Making behavior changes isn’t easy, so it’s crucial they own the WHY of the change and recognize the benefits to be realized or losses to be avoided. Unless they are committed to those changes and want to make them happen, even the best ideas coming from someone else will be ignored.
Provide meaningful feedback.
Once they commit to making the change, there needs to be a process of accountability and feedback to help illustrate progress. If you are assisting with the goal, focus on “catching the individual doing something right.” The accountability and feedback system can pinpoint the small components of the larger change as building blocks to reaching the bigger objective. So, for the person who talks too much, you might agree that you will evaluate them in a meeting by providing a score from 1-10 on how well they did. Other ways to assess progress is: tracking how much time they spent talking, or measuring when they first made their point vs. when they stopped talking. These are tangible steps toward the bigger objective of being a more effective communicator and will help create confidence and motivate your employee to change and continue to improve.
In summary, here are the critical steps in facilitating change in an individual:
- check for awareness of the issue
- clarify the impact of the issue
- help the individual understand the specific changes or needs AND clarify the benefits of that change
- set up an accountability and feedback system
- provide encouragement on small incremental gains as they move toward the more substantial objective