As a leader you are going to have to learn how to change people’s behavior. It’s a really difficult skill to learn, but once you master this five step process you can get people to do whatever you want. To put how powerful this can be into perspective here is an awesome quote on leadership from Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."
People often associate change with negative circumstances and react with anxiety or resistance. Human beings usually resist change because we are creatures of habit and like our routines. Change is hard. Change means I have to learn or do something new. And I will resist the hell out of changing unless I want to change. Unless something occurred that makes me motivated to change.
A large part of leadership is coaching and developing your people to improve their ability to perform. Learning is about developing new skills and habits. Learning something is a process of change. Your job as a leader is to facilitate a constant process of growth in your employees to maximize the potential of your organization.
There are two types of change that you will have to manage as a leader - Organizational and Personal.
- Organizational Change - has to do with decisions where the organization or large group of people must change. It could be a new comp plan, a new product launch or more difficult scenarios like mass layoffs.
- Personal Change - has to do with personal decisions where an individual employee must change. This could be learning a new skill, improving a current skill or increasing productivity. These examples are by no means exhaustive - there are many types of change - but I hope they give a sense of the types of changes you must facilitate as a leader.
Organizational changes are much harder to roll-out successfully. I’s very important to float the problems that you are trying to solve to your team to collect ideas and gather feedback. Top down decision making will be met with the most resistance because the organization didn’t consult with key stakeholders to get their opinions on the change.
Once you have collected feedback from the organization float your proposed solution with a few key stakeholders who are respected influencers in your organization. This is important in order to test the resistance level to change. If your idea is getting a lot of resistance from your respected influencers you need to get them on board or go back to the drawing board.
Throughout my experience as a sales leader, the best method I have found for inspiring change and getting people to want to change is this simple 5 step process. I’m going to focus on personal changes as this type of change management should occur more frequently. Especially for those of us running sales teams where performance is transparent and fluid.
1. Be Direct
Frame the conversation that is going to take place and state what you want to talk about. Be very honest and direct about the nature of the conversation. Address what needs to be addressed. Don’t hold back or sugarcoat anything.
You: “Bob, thanks for making the time to chat today. I’ve scheduled this time together to talk about your performance over the last month. As we’ve discussed a few times your current performance isn’t meeting expectations and I’d like to brainstorm some ways to fix this.”
2. Uncover Their Thought Process
It’s extremely important to get the employee’s perspective on change and understand their thought process. Their thought process is driving the behavior and is what will ultimately need to change. In order to change behavior you must understand why it’s occurring.
By understanding their thought process you’ll know the resistance to change. Your employees will range from “I know I need to change, help me” to “I’m perfect and you aren’t. I don’t need to change, you do!”
Keep your first question closed to limit responses and focus the conversation- it’s either a yes or a no.
You: “Bob, do you think hitting your numbers (what you want to change) is important?”
You: “Why do you think that?”
You: “Do you think your current process (what you want to change) is effective?”
3. Show the Benefit
It’s very important to present your case on why you think they should make the change. Great leaders inspire action. Depending upon the characteristics of the employee you are trying to change, you will have to adjust your style and how you show the benefit. Some employees need animation and inspiration. Some need a logical, statistical analysis of what the change will produce.
Clearly explain the benefit for what you are proposing and why you think it will be more effective. Articulate why you think this change is important and will help them! Excellent leaders help their teams get better. It’s not about you it’s about how the benefit will help them.
Align the benefit with their primary motivator. So if your employee wants to earn a promotion you can frame the benefit of change as developing the skills they’ll need to earn a promotion.
You: “Based on your goals this month and what your current process has produced in the past I think that you can be more effective. Do you think you can improve?”
You: “Recommend what you think they should change. Be detailed and speak to the individual. This is your best pitch on why changing is awesome and a good thing.”
You: “Do you think if you did that you’d be more effective?”
4. Gain Commitment
At this point the employee must have agreed that change will help them. You must hear that they are going to change and that they are excited to change. Most leaders fail at this step.
They make the compelling pitch and show the benefit but the employee never commits to making a change. This commitment is crucial and must occur before a behavior can change. Because learning a new skill or changing a habit is incredibly difficult you should congratulate them on being willing to change and tackling this challenge. Reaffirm your desire to help them through this process.
Work on a plan to change together. Since they will be making the change, explore how the employee plans on accomplishing the change. Help them create the best plan possible but keep in mind that the plan must be their plan in order for them to truly commit to change.
If at any point during this process you get an excuse you must address this directly. Change is difficult and there will be resistance. It’s hard to change so be patient and work through their objections.
You: “Do you that implementing (what needs to change) will make you more effective and help you get to your goals?”
You: “Are you going to make the change?”
You: “Great, let’s work on a plan to help you make this change.”
5. Follow-up & Hold Accountable
Once your employee has told you that they are going to change it’s imperative that you are following up early and often.
Identify how you can track if this change is being implemented and if they are sticking to the plan. If you can track this change via a metric (prospecting, calls etc) look for this change the next day in your reports. If you can track this change via shadowing (skill based) set up a shadowing block ASAP after the conversation.
Be patient and realize that change will not happen overnight. After your conversation you are simply looking for effort to see if they are implementing their plan. If they are, and you agree that the plan will work, then the results will come. Congratulate them for taking action and reinforce your excitement in seeing what this change will produce.
After this conversation you are looking to see if the behavior changed and if the employee is taking the agreed upon action. You didn’t tell them to change. They told you how they were going to change and developed the plan they are going to execute.
When you see the behavior change go out of your way to praise the employee for following their plan. Positive reinforcement shows that you are noticing the changes and that you care enough to follow up. Put in the time and energy to help this employee stick to their plan and change the behavior.
Learning a new skill or fundamentally changing a behavioral characteristic (like attitude) won’t happen overnight. It will happen over time by focusing on executing the action steps of the plan and helping your employee overcome challenges they will face when attempting to change. Remember, that as a leader it’s your responsibility to facilitate change in a healthy manner to create an organization that is constantly improving.