How can I use small improvements to build on a major shift in operations?

Since small successes can energize those involved in a change effort, organize the effort so that there are visible positive results early on. When you achieve these successes, celebrate them. Reinforce the positive behaviors that led to the success. Initiating a major change is an uphill battle and employees can become depressed in the midst of the effort unless they see evidence of progress.

Successful small changes can build employee morale, particularly if these small changes can be measured in light of improved sales performance, customer loyalty, or market share.

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If there is real concern among employees, consider a pilot program to test the thinking behind the change effort. The success of the pilot program will build enthusiasm for a full-out effort.

Preferably, try to demonstrate a balanced picture of progress in all the areas that you set out to change. Schedules and measurements should give an indication of specific achievements, but pay attention also to intangibles, like employee morale. You want your greatest progress in areas of significant benefit, but even minimal progress in one area is worthwhile if it encourages progress in other, more significant areas.

When you achieve quick wins, find ways to recognize and reward your employees. The importance of these short-term successes can't be overestimated. Eyes are always on change efforts. And opponents of change will be looking for proof that an idea won't work. But it's hard to argue with success.

It's tougher to justify change on the basis of soft data—things like improved morale, trust, loyalty, stress levels, or job satisfaction—than of hard data—like productivity increases, bigger market share, faster delivery, higher customer satisfaction indices, shorter product development cycles, and high initial sales. Once these hard-data gains are achieved, build on them. This keeps the momentum of the change effort going, which will give you an opportunity to change other elements (like structure or systems) that don't fit well with the initial change.

How do I motivate my staff to see the opportunity that comes with change?

You shouldn't promise something you can't be sure you can deliver—like a raise or a promotion. Focus on what the change is expected to do. If that might open up opportunities for advancement, you may mention that but as "one possible result," nothing more.

Turn the change plan itself into an opportunity by pointing up the negative risks if the change isn't made. Should you still have doubters, the first payoffs in a business sense as you implement the plan should raise enthusiasm and convince people of the wisdom of the new approach.

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Alter the gripes and groans to cheers and enthusiasm by keeping the gains or benefits of the change in the forefront of all conversations about the change. This is certainly the time to stress the positives and thereby override the understandable uncertainties, fears, and anxieties. For instance, when talking about the need for the change, don't neglect to point out the consequences of not implementing the change. And use pilot projects or trial runs wherever practicable prior to making the change final. Experimental runs can help to "debug" the change effort before the total change is implemerited, and such trial runs will provide concrete evidence that the new approach is realistic and workable.

How do I involve employees in change efforts without abdicating my own authority over the final decisions?

All managers have a distinct leadership style.

Some managers practice a command directive style, leaving their staff little opportunity to influence the plan. These managers tend to do no more than let everyone vent their displeasure with the directed change and then expect them to get on with it.

Managers who tend to be extremely supportive will handhold the staff through the change process. The group may or may not have the skills and interest to deal with the change, but it doesn't matter with this kind of manager, who micromanages the change process. The employees may be asked their opinion at each stage, but they have learned that their ideas will usually not be heard.

A laissez-faire leader abdicates his or her responsibility for the change to the group. The leader may believe that the team truly has all the skills it needs to make the change a reality or he or she may believe that the change isn't likely to work or be as successful as others say and consequently prefers to devote his or her time to other, more productive activities.

If a manager truly believes in the change process and respects the know-how of his or her employees, he or she may involve them in the change effort yet serve to lead the initiative, ensuring that the change is always on the right course. In practicing a participative style, a manager doesn't abdicate responsibility as does the laissez-faire manager. Rather, the manager shares responsibility for the success of the change with his or her department, listening and incorporating their ideas into the final plan.

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If you practice this participative leadership style, there may be suggestions made that you disagree with. At that time, you may want to practice the Socratic style of managing. If you recall, Socrates never rejected any of the ideas from his students. Rather, he discussed them with his students to help them think through their ideas and improve them. That's the role of a true participative manager.

Besides, change is too important and potentially complex to let it be a one-manager kind of thing. The wise manager will involve his or her employees in all aspects of the change process: conceptualization/visioning, depicting the desired outcome, implementation, monitoring of results, assessing actual end results/outcomes and making adjustments/fine-tuning as indicated.

And keep in mind one point: Inclusion of all employees does not mean you need to achieve consensus. While inclusion and listening are critical to building commitment to change, the process of exchange and communication is not to be confused with consensus. At times, change needs to be done without getting everybody fully committed, although it is helpful to invite everybody once or twice to get on board.

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