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Change happens. It can be led, nudged, imposed, or bubble up like hot lava. What it cannot be is stopped or controlled. Let’s be realistic. In business when we deliberately change things, we do so because we expect the change to make the business better. It usually does and almost never to the degree of “better” we projected. There are straightforward reasons why we don’t achieve projected results. There are also ways to lead and nudge the change closer to projected results.

1.People take change personally

2.People respond along a bell curve from: ”Yippee! Change! I love change!” to “Ok, help me understand this and if it looks good I’ll do it” to “A rotary phone was good enough for my parents and it’s good enough for me”

3.Change is a process

People take change personally

It’s all about me. Every person’s first thoughts are either questions: “How does this affect me? My job? My salary? My benefits? Or judgments: “That’s awesome; it’s about time!” “Oh crud, here we go again.”

What leaders can do to nudge the change in the right direction is listen to the expressions of personal reaction. Acknowledge everyone’s right to have a personal reaction. Respond with empathy. One company was moving personnel around to create room for a new branch of the business—a reasonable thing to do. However, some of the employees complained more and more loudly. One day an employee had a melt down over where the IT people put her computer monitor. The employee’s manager was quite put out about the meltdown and felt the employee was being “too sensitive” and “a real baby.”

No, she wasn’t. She was taking change personally. The employee had worked and earned seniority and a cube by the window, which was taken from her in the change, along with several square feet of space, and her best friend. I think I might take that personally too.

People respond along a bell curve

First, understand that the range of responses exists and is normal. Second, identify the people who like change and enlist them as change champions. They can effectively tell the story about what will be better after the change.

Next, work to shift the middle group over toward embracing the change. This will take some persistence and lots of repetition. Tell the story of the new world and make it connect emotionally to the values of the staff.

As for the change avoiders, leave them alone until after the rest of the population has moved forward. At that point, they may decide to play along. Or they may need to be made available to the market. As a leader, resist the temptation to spend all your time moving this group.

Change is a process

Like any other process, it will not go as you planned. There will be some great surprises and some not so great. Stick with the process and see it through. Once the change begins, keep pressure on people to do things the new way. Do NOT let up. The most natural thing in the world is for people to return to the old way just because it’s familiar. The new way may in fact be better and it isnt’ as comfortable—better or not.

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Expanded information, case studies, business applications and missed opportunities from the real world that you can use to further leadership development in your organization, is in our quarterly journal Leaders’ Work. For a sample issue, click here