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Change Management

6 Leadership Strategies for Reinforcing Change & Getting Buy-In (4 of 4)

This is the final article of a four-part series on the four essential drivers of long-term value for any organizational transition. It concludes with a cautionary tale of prematurely calling it “done.” Read ahead for tips on how to ensure all the effort of guiding an organization to Point B is rewarded with long-lasting commitment to the change and the desired actions to live it out. 

Previously covered:

1. Navigating Change: 6 Questions Every Leader Must Ask During a Team Transition

2. Communicating Change: How to Communicate Tough News without Losing Trust

3. Leading Through Resistance: 6 Strategies for Addressing Opposition to Change

Of all the four drivers of long-term value in this series, this is the most neglected. Embedding a change into a company often is an after-thought or is entirely disregarded. Why? Lack of time and resources is the main culprit. Leaders are eager to “check the transition box” and move quickly to the next initiative. And boy, is that dangerous. 

Considerable research supports the notion of repeated consistent actions over an extended period lead to habits, or business as usual. Any vision of success for a transformation project must include an adoption period during which participants alter their beliefs and behaviors in ways that enact the recently deployed change(s). Failure to do so invites colleagues to casually go through the requested motions and quickly revert to old ways once leaders are focused elsewhere. 

Have you ever attended a meeting where participants collectively and enthusiastically agreed on a decision yet left the room whispering to a colleague “no way I’m doing that!” This overt appeasement and covert opposition unfortunately are a frequent combination among organizations. It is powerful enough to disrupt or even negate what to that point was a wonderful transition. 

How can we make change stick? How do we know if it has? Try the following techniques in your next transition project. Build them into your plan from the start, knowing that your go-live or your Day One of the change is not the end of your effort. It’s the beginning of a critical adoption period that will demonstrate the awesomeness (or failings) of your change program. 

1. Discontinue the Old Way

What ships can you burn? When Cortez arrived in the New World in 1519 he instructed his crew to burn the ships. This sent a clear message to his 600 men: there is no turning back. Similarly, can you accelerate change adoption by discontinuing the old way of doing things? Can you remove the option of reverting to the prior scenario? What might seem drastic often is a pivot point in a change journey. Reduce the way forward to only the desired path. 

2. Share Success Stories

What story can you tell? Stories are the most effective emotional connector between humans. Seek opportunities to share instances of how recent changes already have generated meaningful promised benefits. Excitedly relate success stories that affirm individuals embracing the change and that remind colleagues why the transition was important. Be specific. Be public. Be frequent. 

3. Monitor Feedback

What are you hearing? Monitor feedback and casual conversations throughout the adoption period. How are employees talking about the alterations they’ve made? Are there new points of resistance? These are anecdotal indicators of your recent change’s health. Be proactive and pursue input. Ask “how are you adjusting to the new process?” or similar genuine inquiry. 

4. Ensure Your Leaders Are Committed

How are your leaders acting? We have heard that “change starts at the top”, and in many situations that is true. Realize that even after a change has been initiated, staff will continue to watch organizational leaders to gauge their ongoing commitment to the change. Are they living out the promises made and consistently modeling desired attitudes and behaviors? Frequently remind executives that they are on display. Their actions should dependably demonstrate they have embraced the transition. 

5. Consider Your Rollout Strategy

What add-ons are you able to introduce? Most corporate change initiatives center on one major shift or a group of adjustments at the same time. There are many advantages to ripping off the band aid for a one-time makeover. If that is your strategy, consider deferring certain minor moves that will help individuals affected. Introduce them in intervals during the adoption period to remind colleagues of the main change and reward continuous compliance. For example, after launching a new accounting system, introduce new features to streamline expense reports or view pay stubs. 

6. Set Clear Expectations of Compliance

How can you hold people accountable? In addition to the many ideas of the carrot, incorporate appropriate uses of the stick. In other words, set clear expectations of compliance along with the penalties of non-compliance. Fear of failure or being called out are powerful motivators, and when used fairly, corrective measures underscore the importance of change adoption. 

Reinforcing change is just as critical as planning for it. Be intentional about guiding stakeholders through initial modifications to required work habits. There is no standard schedule or duration for it, but your role as a change leader is instrumental in continuing encouragement, training, and other activities to gain full adoption of your desired change. Only then can you celebrate long-term value from your efforts. 

Gary McClure is a senior consultant at Thrivence, a consulting firm specializing in strategy, leader development, organizational performance, and technology. For more than 15 years, Gary has led organizational transformation initiatives and taught leaders how to navigate successful change. He can be reached at gary.mcclure@thrivence.com.  

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