“Every time I find the meaning of life, they change it.”

Reinhold Niebuhr

Have you found the meaning of life?  If we each had to define our meaning, the meanings we’d interpret would be as diverse as our backgrounds, experiences and beliefs.  But no matter what you’re planning and expecting in this life, the one constant you can rely on is that things will change.  Market drivers, competition, standards, technology, client needs, and the aging process are all forces of change in the profession today.  My colleague, Sylvia blogged recently on the subject of coping with unexpected change, “Are You Prepared For A Major Change?”  In this post, we’ll examine change from the leadership perspective.

As leaders, it’s our job to help others to understand change, accept it and adapt to it.  Whether it be a merger, the closing of an office, the start up of a new service line, the addition of a new industry, the naming of a new CEO, the loss of a key staff person, the implementation of a new time and billing solution or any other type of change, the faster we can facilitate the change acceptance process, the more nimble and competitive we’ll be.  Everett Rogers was a pioneer in the study of change adoption and he maintained that people will change more quickly when they can:

  • See an advantage or benefit to the new way of being over their current method, process or approach.  To help people accept change, you must give them the answer to their unspoken question:  “If I change, then what’s in it for me?”
  • Compare the new way of being to their old way of being and see correlations to things they are already comfortable with.  To drive change, you want people to be able to relate the new behavior to something they already know and are familiar with.
  • Overcome any complexity or difficulty in understanding the new approach or way of being.  Help your people accept change by communicating the new way in simple terms, or break the change process into bite-sized pieces that can be assimilated more easily than complex change.
  • Test drive the change or try it out for a while.  Consider piloting the change process with a smaller group that can work the kinks out before a larger group takes on the new way of being.  Allow people to try operating in both the old and new ways interchangeably, if possible, so they can get comfortable with the new way of being.
  • See, firsthand, how others are experiencing the benefits of change outlined previously.  Observing those who have already changed enjoy success from their new behavior can be one of the most powerful incentives you can supply to those facing change.

If you want to lead people in your firm or group to change, make sure that your communications answer the questions on the minds of most stakeholders:

  • What will be better (for me, our firm, our clients) as a result of this change?
  • How does life after the change compare to life before the change?  What will be the same?  What will be different?
  • What’s the simplest path to adopt this change?  What are the first steps?  What exactly do you want me to change?
  • How can I try out this change?
  • Who else (like me or us) has experienced this change?  What were their results?
  • How will we know that the change is complete?
  • Who do I communicate with regarding the change process?  Who can I seek support from?

In my experience, most leadership teams spend a lot of time deliberating about and defining the change they want, but spend almost no time planning their communications to support change adoption.  Then, they’re disappointed with their adoption rates and frustrated by what feels like a lack of compliance.

Be the voice of the people affected and ask these change-adoption questions when change is afoot in your firm.  If you do, and your team forms and communicates real answers, you’ll be surprised by how much more smoothly and quickly change adoption will occur.

How is your leadership team doing in communicating change in your firm?  What ideas do you have that can help change adoption?  We’d love to hear from you!