Of course, it would be wonderfully easy if you could just send out an email to everyone about the future change to be implemented. And unfortunately, I still see that many executives hold this view on change. They are full of energy and conviction about what needs to be done, but they completely forget to think of how. The point is that involvement of your employees and the process are equally as important as the actual content of the change. And you have to involve more than just the employees who pat you on the back and praise the initiative.

We are often in a hurry to get started on the change, but the key to success often lies in creating shared views on both what, why and how. Set off time for planning before you begin the implementation, and also set off time afterwards for collecting learnings for the next change process. And yes, this takes time, but at the end of the day, it is worthwhile.

A shared characteristic of the executives and companies successful in their change processes is primarily that they acknowledge that all three elements of the change process are equally important:

  • The content (what needs to be changed)
  • Involvement of managers and employees through interaction and co-creation
  • The efficient change process

The content is a natural first of the three pillars in a successful change process, but the content could be basically anything – it is not the content that will determine whether or not your change will be successful. We know that too many of the change initiatives in various types of companies and organisations fail. Even though the content of the change may be both sound and well thought out, there is often a lack of commitment and drive among the employees as well as a carefully prepared process. No matter what type of change, the great idea is never sufficient on its own. The change also needs to be executed!

Would it not be great if all your employees were lining up to take part in driving the change? And why does that almost never happen?

Listen to the naysayers

That question leads me to the second pillar, which is involvement of those managers and employees who will be affected by the change. Cut-and-dried solutions that “just” need to be implemented (read: forced on people) rarely inspire the kind of motivation that is needed to achieve dedicated commitment. Most of us basically do not like change so resistance is completely natural. If you want committed employees at all levels, it becomes necessary that you invite them to take part in the preparatory work to give them a sense of shared responsibility. And it also becomes necessary that their input is taken seriously and included in the further process. The dialogue cannot just be for show.

Listen to people’s thoughts, concerns, praise and objections, ideas and complaints. And make sure to listen to the objections and the critical voices. Having the guts to listen to a no will allow you the freedom to act. Either by adapting or by preparing for possible resistance. Bold executives who dare to be challenged have a higher chance of success. Executives who do not take the time to listen to the naysayers will fail with their change initiative because they will never be able to create the commitment that is a necessary criterion for success.

And executives who only surround themselves with yes-men will eventually end up losing the best and most creative employees as they will quickly realise that their boss is not willing to be challenged. If you only surround yourself with yes-men, you will not be able to achieve any kind of true transformation that will challenge your industry or contribute with something truly new.

Involvement does not mean either consensus or democracy

That leads us to my third point that is the efficient change process. I think that most people will agree on the advantages of involving people in the change process, but I often come across the explanation (excuse) that it is time-consuming, and that there are insufficient resources for the work. But it does not have to be that way. An efficient change process only requires that the involvement has a clear agenda. The agenda must clearly state what is up for discussion (and what is not), and how the result of the dialogue is to be used.

It is important to keep in mind that an invitation for dialogue does not involve either consensus or democracy! And it is crucial to make this entirely clear to everyone from the beginning.

The above is of course always easier said than done, but the following three steps will help you get off to a good start:

  1. Gather your management team to identify which effect you want to achieve. It is important to have a shared view of the change to be effected and why
  2. Identify the individuals to be affected by the change. Invite them to an initial dialogue. Be bold – try to hear what it would take to get the naysayers to say aye
  3. Emphasise what you want to achieve with the dialogue and why. The purpose of the dialogue is solely to learn, it is not a forum for decisions. You should instead include the new learnings from the dialogue in the relevant decision-making forums

So when you get back to the office, you can begin by telling why you should begin your change journey. It is no excuse that everything is not cut and dried. This is in fact an essential criterion for success – invite your employees and colleagues to participate. And remember to listen to the naysayers.

Originally published in Børsen Ledelse.