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Prescription - How To Get Others To Change

September 9, 2012 6:25am (EDT)
(Photo Courtesy of RAWKUS via stock.xchng.)
(Photo Courtesy of RAWKUS via stock.xchng.)

Getting others to change is one of the most difficult (and arguably most impossible) tasks any of us can take on. And yet, each of us possess a list of people in our professional and personal lives that we want to change. Change is hard. Changing others is harder. The reality is that no one can really change another person, but what we can do is motivate, inspire, prod, guide and incent others to change. The process by which we assist others to change can be boiled down to these critical steps:

Step 1: Get them uncomfortable with the status quo
As John Kotter (the well-known change guru at Harvard) points out, there must be a sufficient level of urgency up front before others are ready to change. As we discussed earlier this month, there are two types of urgency designed to get others uncomfortable with the status quo:

Urgency Type 1: “You are going to die” – This form of urgency is equivalent to laying out a “worst case scenario.” It is extremely powerful in shaking people out of their patterns and forcing them to overcoming their fears. This version of urgency entails that you hit them right between the eyes with quickly approaching doom and gloom. The trick to creating anxiety and heightened urgency utilizing this approach is to be sure to also attach a short time horizon to get them moving sooner than later.

Urgency Type 2: “You can have everything you’ve always wanted… if you hurry” – This second type of urgency paints a vision of great things happening if we act now, but the longer we wait, the more likely it is that this perfect vision will slip through our fingers forever. You often see this approach used when organizations are trying to change their strategy or enter into a new market. A short time horizon also increases the effectiveness of this approach.

If you really want to get the urgency levels up, consider walloping them with both types of urgency in the same conversation to ensure they are sufficiently uncomfortable. It’s at that point of discomfort and heightened anxiety that they are ready for a plan.

Step 2: Give them a plan
Whether you are trying to change the 20-something living in your basement or a group of employees that need to be convinced to reinvent themselves, you’ll need to make change as easy as possible. In other words, you’re going to have to come prepared to offer a step-by-step “easy to do” plan.

The makings of a good change plan
A good change plan doesn’t need to be complex, but there are some important attributes that should be present. Consider the following (for more on change plans, check out this post):

Step by step – a good plan should look like a board game (remember those?). It should be a step by step process. Sounds simple enough, but imagine if you didn’t do that? I see consultants and MBA students alike make this horrific mistake. Make sure you simplify the plan to a “one step at a time” approach. Make it easy to ensure steady progress.

Measurable actions THEN measurable results – Second, all steps in your plan should have something measurable to gauge progress. However, depending on the degree of difficulty, you might need to focus first on measuring behaviors and later measure results. After all, results often lag behaviors and sometimes by a lot.

Target short-term wins – John Kotter, the change guru from Harvard, is a big fan of short-term wins. So am I. Set up your plan so that the first goal is short and easy to attain. Get the momentum high early on so you can keep it going.

Step 3: Cheer them on
In order to keep the momentum moving and to ensure those attempting change stay on the path, you’ll need to become a master cheerleader. You’ll need to be thoughtful about what and when you celebrate. Consider focusing on the following areas for your celebratory efforts:

Celebrate short-term wins – One common “best practice” in any change initiative is to establish and celebrate short-term wins. In other words, even though you may see the entire process taking a year or longer until real success is achieved, your job is to set short very attainable milestones so those making the change know they are making progress.

Celebrate behaviors – While it’s important to celebrate the overall progress and milestones that are being achieved, it is equally important to celebrate the behaviors that you see on a daily basis. This can range from seeing someone embrace change with a positive attitude to noticing that office curmudgeon actually try.

A Final Step
There is one final change step that I have yet to mention. It may be the most important of all of the change steps we’ve outlined and by far it is one of the most difficult to pull off. Here it is: You have to love others into change. “What are you talking about?” you say. “I do not want to ‘love’ my co-workers.” Let me explain. We all know the difference when someone is trying to “shape us up” or “manipulate us” versus someone who truly wants the very best for us and cares about us unconditionally. Call that “unconditional positive regard” as the famous psychologist Carl Rogers outlined or call it love. Either way, you need feel nothing but “good stuff” for those you are trying to change if you expect them to believe you and trust you. After all, they are the ones venturing into the unknown, not you. They are scared. They are going to make mistakes. They don’t want or need someone who they believe is going to judge them. So if you can find it in your heart to love them into change, you’ll be amazed at how much more receptive they will be to you and your suggestions.

With that, go forth and change the hearts and minds of others. Who knows? You might just change the world in the process.

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