What Great Bosses Know about Making Change Stick

I don’t even have to ask if you are managing change these days. If you’re a supervisor of any sort, it comes with the territory. It might involve technology, systems, job roles and responsibilities, collaboration, consolidation, regulation or even social networking. You may be part of a brainstorming team that plans for change and you’re most likely responsible for its execution.

And that’s the challenge: making certain good ideas don’t fail because of poor execution. This is a focus of a lot of my recent teaching — helping leaders in changing organizations keep the change momentum going toward positive results.

Here are some tips for managers who are trying to make change stick. I’ve listed six steps, each with a little alliteration and a lot of impact if you do it right.

1. Voice the vision.
Communication is critical during change. You may think you’ve stated your plans and goals clearly. Trust me, that’s not enough. What’s clear to you is cloudier to those who didn’t ask for the change and aren’t sure they’ve bought into it quite yet. In the absence of continuing communication, people make assumptions, rumors gain traction, and forward motion can stall. But do more than repeat directions; use every opportunity to add inspiration. Share the “why” along with the “what” and the “how.” And find creative ways to add the “what’s in it for you.”

2. Enlist the evangelists.
Who are your early adopters, your reliable go-to people, your respected natural networkers? These are the colleagues staffers turn to when they have questions or doubts, often talking to them before or even instead of their supervisors. Invest time and trust in these employees, so they can respond knowledgeably and candidly to co-workers. Tap into their enthusiasm, but don’t treat them as shills or spies. Don’t give them any reason to fear losing the credibility they have built with staff. Invite their valuable insights into how to improve what YOU are doing to facilitate change.

3. Measure what matters.
Determine what metrics you will use to measure progress. What are you trying to do more of, less of, or do differently? What you measure is what you value. It becomes the scorecard that tells people how well they are performing. Example: a newsroom shifting to an online-first culture may keep track of who’s posting to the Web, when and how frequently, and share that data with everyone. But choose your metrics carefully. As the authors of “The Change Champion’s Fieldguide” note, the best metrics are credible and easy to understand, use existing data, measure quality as well as cost, measure outputs, not just effort, and are continually refined and improved. Be vigilant about unintended consequences of any metric (over-focus by the team on only what’s measured) and clearly communicate your interpretation of the data — what it means and what it doesn’t.

4. Fish for feedback.
Communication from the boss can’t be one-way. You need to sharpen your listening skills. Unless you let people know their feedback is welcome, you’ll miss opportunities to calm fears, correct misinformation, and gain insights into successes and challenges. Yes, you’ll hear complaints, probably lots of them. Great bosses don’t assume all complainers are miscreants; they treat them with a deft customer-service approach. What in this complaint provides an opportunity to build a relationship and identify an opportunity? If the negative feedback is off-base, it is a chance to teach. If it is on point, it’s a call for action.

5. Correct the course.
Change involves risk. You try to minimize it by careful planning on the front end. But when your metrics, your staff, your customers or your conscience tell you something’s not right, don’t stay dug into a bad plan. Better to be seen in the short term as a flip-flopper than in the long term as a flop. Your staff will have more respect for you if you have listened to input, weighed the issues and then modified your plans. Clearly, if you do this constantly, it may suggest a lack of forethought, so learn from each course correction. And always communicate those lessons to staff. If you don’t, they’ll define the situation for you.

6. Note the new normal.
Here’s the funny thing about change: when it works well, it can, over time, seem like it came easily. But it happened because of significant effort that deserves to be acknowledged. Harvard’s Howard Gardner, in his book “Leading Minds,” says “Leaders achieve their effectiveness chiefly through the stories they relate.” It’s important for managers to tell stories that remind people how far they’ve come, to celebrate the work people did to learn and grow, and to reinforce the most positive values that underpin the updated way of doing things. Those stories affirm the good that change can bring, and help smooth the way for the change that inevitably lies ahead.

My recent seminars for new managers have taught me one more lesson about successfully managing change. In today’s podcast, I share what change looks like through their eyes, so click on “What Great Bosses Know about Making Change Stick.”

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. You can download a complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

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