When your business is undergoing major disruption and must change direction, how do you get people on board? How do you win hearts and minds to the new strategies needed to survive and thrive?
Last time, I blogged about a powerful principle that helps. It goes like this: “The only thing that changes people’s behaviour is new information. They will go on doing what they're doing right now, until they get new information.”
New information is what convinces organisations and people of the need to change. And it’s the responsibility of leaders in an organisation to share the information that convinces them change is necessary. That’s what mobilises people.
If you haven’t read that post, you should probably do it now, because this post builds on it.
This post starts with the admission that even the most powerful new information won’t get some people to change. They will go on doing what they’re doing right now, even when they’ve seen conclusive evidence that it isn’t working.
What’s up with that?
In the same brilliant 1992 talk I mentioned last time, Morrie Shechtman provided answers that made tremendous sense.
He asserted that people and organisations run on certain values, and that when those values differ, the result is conflict that blocks progress. Those values have much to do with the way people respond to new information.
He clarified that he didn’t mean values of the usual sort, such as honesty, loyalty, and integrity. He meant values centered on change, responsibility, and impact and reward.
Everyone’s values on these three parameters lie along a spectrum, he said. If you’re at one end of the spectrum and the organisation’s values are at the other end, it won’t be a happy fit for either of you.
Shechtman’s book, Working Without a Net/How to Survive & Thrive in Today’s High Risk Business World, discusses all of this in much more detail.
But for now, let’s take these values one by one:
Most people don’t like change. When things change, there’s a sense of losing control, of uncertainty, of risk.
But, Shechtman said, people respond differently to change. People at one end of the spectrum define change as bad, and they do everything they can to stall it off. And, when finally forced to make a change, they make the smallest possible change that will get them by for the present.
Businesses are the same. Most established businesses are comfortable with what they do, and when forced to change, they will make the smallest change they think can help. It’s happening every day in many newspaper companies.
Shechtman also pointed out that not making a decision to change is, in itself, a decision. People and businesses may think they are postponing a decision, but in reality they are deciding to stay on the current path. In a business that’s declining, that can be deadly.
People who live at the other end of the change spectrum may not like change any better, Shechtman said, but they view it differently. They track the available information carefully, watching to see when change becomes the smart thing to do. And when that happens, they try to make a change that’s big enough to take them as far into the future as possible.
My takeaway: Disrupted businesses and their leaders simply must view change in that latter way. Anything less is a decision to keep riding the business down.
And they need people in their organisations who share that same value about change – people who will respond to new information by making the smartest, most far-reaching changes. Those who resist change, or postpone and minimise it, can – wittingly or not – slow or even sabotage the organisation’s progress.
At one end of the responsibility spectrum, people believe that things happen to them and they are powerless to do anything about it. They are victims of circumstances beyond their control.
At the other end of the responsibility spectrum, people believe that when things happen, it’s up to them to find a way forward. They take the responsibility for turning events and circumstances into opportunities to survive and thrive.
In businesses being disrupted by circumstances beyond their control – like newspapers, magazines, television, and radio in the digital age – the victim mentality is deadly. Owners, leaders, and employees of disrupted businesses cannot afford to view themselves as powerless victims.
We need fighters who are determined to make success out of whatever circumstances we are given. These are the people who make wins happen. We need them at the top of the organisation, throughout management, and in the rank and file.
Impact versus reward
At one end of this spectrum, Shechtman said, people believe they can’t have both impact and reward. They believe they must choose one or the other.
At the other end of the spectrum, Shechtman said, people believe they can and should be able to achieve high impact and be well rewarded for it.
Shechtman said that’s the way it should work. But in many types of employment, it doesn’t.
For example, he said, people take teaching jobs to have impact on young people, consciously resigning themselves to making less money than they might in many other jobs.
Unfortunately, the newspaper business works similarly. If you want to have an impact on the community, you become a reporter or an editor – and you resign yourself to making less money than the people who sell advertising.
People who go into advertising, on the other hand, often take pride in having a positive impact on their customers and making good money for it.
But newspapers constantly lose their best people anyway, because the whole industry tends to underpay even its high performers. So, when they’ve maxed out what your organisation can offer, they tend to move on to other industries where they can achieve both impact and reward.
If you’re a leader of any sort in a disrupted business, you might want to consider where your own values fall along these three spectra.
- Are you avoiding change or making the most of it?
- Are you taking full responsibility to make the best of what’s happening around you?
- Are you expecting and trying to achieve both impact and reward?
If you’re where you need to be on these values, then consider your people. Are their values where they need to be?
In all likelihood, some of them are not. And you may realise that your efforts to change your department or organisation are suffering because of people whose values regarding change, responsibility, or impact/reward aren’t in synch with what’s needed.
Can you help them bring their values into alignment with the organisation’s needs? Certainly you can try. But it isn’t easy, since these values are deeply seated.
And merely getting compliance isn’t enough. Just think how wonderful it would be to work with a whole team of people who take full and enthusiastic responsibility for making needful change happen.
When you think about it that way, you realise you can’t afford to wait too long for reluctant people to come on board. Remember – not making a decision is a decision.