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Forget Everything You Know

September 21, 2012

 By Laurie Clarke, COO, The Tatham Group

“Forget everything you know.  What you did yesterday isn’t going to work today.  You need to do this new thing from now on.  Do you understand me?  It doesn’t matter that you think the old way worked.  This is your new job.  If you have problems with it call me but you can’t do what you used to anymore.  You understand?”

This is an excerpt of a conversation I overheard at the pharmacy while waiting in line.  The manager was explaining a fundamental change in the way the pharmacist was supposed to do their job due to the ‘bosses requirements’.  Let’s forget for a moment that this conversation was being held publicly while there was a line up of customers waiting for the pharmacists attention and take bets on whether or not she is doing her job differently today…no takers?  Didn’t think so.

Coaching through change is one of the most difficult things to do as a leader.  As Alan Deutschman’s book Change or Die eloquently points out 85% of the people faced with death as an alternative to change literally chose death.  We enter into leadership positions with little to no experience with helping people change which usually leads us back to the standard ‘do it because I say so’ method as illustrated above.  It doesn’t work.  And it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.

If you are in this situation, and what leader isn’t, here is an alternative you may want to try:

  1. If it takes an average of eight times of being told something for a person to really hear it then start early and say it often.  Talk about all of the change(s) at a high level and answer the question: ‘What is going to change for me?’ for each individual at a level of detail that the person can envision the new world.
  2. Explain why the change is happening. ‘Because I said so’ works about as well in the workplace as it does with a sixteen year old.  Even if they learn to smile and nod their head you best pull up a chair and sit beside them all day if you want the change to actually happen.  Answer ‘Why do I have to do this differently?  Why is this better than the way I was doing it before? Why did you decide on this way specifically? Why? Why? Why?’
  3. Give all of the tools, training and support needed to walk through and understand how they are going to do the job differently.  Answer ‘How am I supposed to do this?  Is this the right way?  Am I doing what is expected of me?  How do I know I am doing a good job?’
  4. Take the time to find out why the person is having a difficult time changing.  Don’t make assumptions, ask why?  Determine what they are holding on to in the old way that they don’t want to give up.  Even if the person is afraid of change there is a reason for that fear that once understood can be overcome together.
  5. Change the way the person is being measured in order to support the changes in the work.  More important than consequences for not changing (still important) the reward for changing should be as immediate as possible.  People like to know when they’ve done a good job and see their progress throughout the change.    As it often takes time to change compensation systems you may want to start with recognition.
  6. Loop everything back to the purpose of the change.  Here’s how you are doing and how it fits into the bigger picture.  For example, you have changed the way you note a phone call in the system and as a result the downstream department doesn’t need to come back to you or the customer for more information.  This has reduced the number of customer call backs by x% and increased our customer satisfaction by y% (which is part of the persons financial incentive plan).

At the end of the day, even when employees are connected to the vision and success of the company, the question that needs to be answered clearly, consistently and often is ‘How does this affect me personally?’  It’s harder, takes longer and requires a lot of patience.  And it works.