Use a High Involvement Approach When Leading Change

“What will social distancing look like for us?” “Who have you consulted with?” “How will our performance goals be adjusted?” “What if I don't have access to childcare?” “What precautions have been put in place to make sure it's safe to return to work?”

These are just some of the questions leaders need to be prepared for as they consider how they are going to re-open their businesses, says Blanchard change expert Judd Hoekstra.

“The biggest mistake leaders can make is to assume that everyone in the organization is as far along the change process as they are,” says Hoekstra. “It’s easy to forget that while the senior leadership team has been reviewing the data and having planning meetings, the same isn’t true for rank and file employees.”

Hoekstra explains that people have five predictable stages of concern—and corresponding questions—when evaluating a change: information concerns, personal concerns, and implementation concerns followed by impact concerns and refinement concerns.

“When the senior leadership team begins asking people to come back to work, it’s important to allow time to address people’s first three stages of concern. These are the stages that leaders often bypass or don't spend much time on, mainly because they personally have already worked through them over many weeks of discussions. Because they've done it, they mistakenly underestimate the time that others will need to process the same concerns. Our research shows that during change, leaders need to meet folks where they are. So people’s information, personal, and implementation concerns about change are critical for leaders to address right away.

“One of the worst things a leader can do is initiate a change without first addressing people’s concerns. Pushing ahead for the sake of expediency causes people to think ‘My manager hasn’t thought about me at all in this. They haven't thought about how this is going to impact me.’ On the other hand, when leaders talk about those concerns, people think ‘My manager cares about my concerns—and about me.’

“Leaders have a tendency to want to move fast during change, often by using a top-down approach. While they can make decisions quickly using that approach, it's likely to slow down or possibly derail implementation of the change because they won’t have the commitment level from people in the company. At best, they’ll have compliance, which won’t be enough in the long term. But if leaders slow down a little bit on the front end by involving more people, giving them a voice in the process, and getting dialogue going, the change implementation will move faster and results will come sooner.”

One of the questions Hoekstra often hears from leaders who are considering using a high involvement strategy is how to make the needed decisions to keep moving forward.

“Even though everyone needs to be involved in the process, that doesn’t mean everyone's going to have a vote. In our Leading People through Change® training program, we discuss the difference between having a voice and having a vote. While few organizations would allow employees a vote in the change process, all organizations have an opportunity to give people a voice. And that voice goes a long way in lowering people's resistance to the change. Just knowing that the leaders initiating the change are taking input from a lot of different sources and different people goes a long way. People see it as more of a smart process and are better able to understand the rationale for the decisions being made.”

Hoekstra emphasizes that change is a process done best with people, not to people. He points to Gartner research that shows how the most change-adaptive organizations rely on their workforce—not just their executives—to lead change.

“Change leadership teams that encourage open and honest communication have far better results than those that don't. It’s the free-flowing sharing of information and being in a dialogue, not a monologue, that is key.

“Gartner’s research shows that a high involvement strategy improves engagement, retention, and ultimately implementation speed by up to 33%. So people are more highly engaged, there’s a greater likelihood they will stay with the organization, and the implementation will happen faster.”

For organizations looking to improve their readiness for a short-term change initiative and a long-term change-ready organization, Hoekstra suggests several different strategies.

“Improving leaders’ change readiness skills can be done a few different ways—through training, consulting, or coaching. In every case, leaders must be educated on people’s predictable stages of concern and on communication skills for addressing each stage effectively.

“Change works fast when you've won over people's hearts and minds—and the way you do that is through dialogue. Our ongoing response to COVID-19 provides leaders with an opportunity to keep trust and engagement high by using a high involvement approach.

“The battle hasn’t been won yet. As people come back to the office, there'll be many questions and concerns as we step into our new normal. It will be critical for leaders to be prepared to address those concerns and lead their organizations forward.”


Would you like to learn more about leading a change initiative and building a change-ready organization? Join us for a free webinar.

A Better Approach to Leading Change: Winning Hearts and Minds at All Levels

Wednesday, June 24, 2020, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Join Judd Hoekstra for an in-depth look at how to build change capacity and agility in your organization. Hoekstra will share:

  • A counterintuitive yet research-backed approach to getting results faster
  • The best way to kick off a change initiative
  • How to leverage both change advocates and change resisters to reach a tipping point sooner
  • A client case study on how to develop enterprise-wide capacity to change

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to build the mindsets and skill sets of your leaders as well as the change capacity of your organization during these changing times!

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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