I’ve found that the more you call attention to impending changes, whether it’s one of those dreaded reorganizations or a new compensation system, the more you sabotage yourself. That’s because the whole reason for making a change is to respond to market forces with speed and efficiency. If you gab about what you’re about to do for four months, then by the time you actually act, it’s too late.
Even if you get everyone’s input after carefully laying the groundwork—and there’s still time to make a difference— you’re probably stuck. That’s because all this democratizing of the process has watered down the size or scope of the change so much that you’ve lost the chance to make the significant strides that you were originally hoping to achieve.
Find success stories
Call me a despot, but I take a different tack. When I decide it’s time for a change, I just implement it. I involve the key people who need to help make it work, and that’s it. But to prevent everyone from bailing out on me, I find and praise people who can lead the way. Certain individuals deserve recognition for showing flexibility and resiliency in the face of disruptions, and I go out of my way to make sure these winners are seen by every employee as role models.
Last year, for example, I reversed course on a major marketing push we had already invested much time and effort into implementing. Some of my reps wanted to strangle me when they arrived at work, read my e-mail and found that I had changed my mind. At a lunch meeting that same day, I elaborated on the new strategy. (I chose lunch to address them face-to-face because I wanted to avoid the formality of a conference room—and I figured they couldn’t yell as much at me with their mouths full.)
Among dozens of people, three marketers stood out above the pack. They didn’t flinch in the face of all this. They accepted the change, asked intelligent questions about execution and took incredible initiative to establish almost instant momentum for doing things the new way. I gave them cash bonuses, more responsibility and told other employees to emulate them. And most of them eventually did.
Monitor your ‘fed-up index’
Before I elect to change course, I always measure what I call the “fed-up index.” That’s my estimation of employees’ moods. If their collective frustration level is too high (say, if they’ve undergone a few wrenching changes in a short period), then I won’t subject them to another one.
Reading this “index” is easy. I watch their morning faces as they arrive at their desks and survey the day ahead. I eavesdrop on their remarks as they walk in front of me. If I conclude that they’re about to snap, I hold back. Diving right into change works wonders but not if you overdo it.
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