Four resolutions to become better at change

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We’ve made it across the threshold of 2021, and the hindsight of 2020 is revealed. How do you feel?

A few of you had your best year yet, while many others still have a steep climb out of the depths of 2020. A Bain & Co. study recently revealed companies that were already effective at managing the energy of their people grew in productivity — 5 to 8 percent — over the last 12 months, while organizations with more wasteful ways of working dipped in productivity 3 to 6 percent. The productivity gap has widened.

This widened gap is evidence to suggest we must all become better at change. And change is changing.

When we teach leaders how change really works, we draw an iceberg. Above the water line is where you’ll list all the technical, tangible things you hope your change will yield. You might want to increase profits or decrease turnover, for example. That visible change is driven and brought forth by the invisible elements lurking below the surface of the water: your culture, behaviors, values, perceptions, experiences, habits, politics, beliefs and so on.

The technical aspects of change have deep cultural ripple effects: While your people are busy adapting, they’re also experiencing emotions. The hard-to-see cultural aspects of the change not only make up the vast majority of your iceberg, but they’re also what sink the proverbial ship. And, what sinks the ship is sure to sink your next change initiative.

If we as leaders don’t take a strategic approach to people strategy (below the waterline stuff), we can’t take a strategic approach to the technical aspects of the change we seek. After all, people are the heart of business strategy, and that puts them at the heart of your next change.

If your productivity dipped in 2020, here are a few ways to get better at change.

Embrace a growth mindset

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Our president, Heather Haas, shared a powerful exercise with us last month. She told us to state something challenging, add the words “and yet,” and finish the sentence with something positive. For example, “Working from home, sharing an office with my husband and facilitating e-learning for my young children has been stressful, and yet, we’ve grown closer, built stronger ties and made incredible memories as a family.”

These two small words have the power to spontaneously shift you from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. A growth mindset, coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, “creates a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Adapting and adjusting as new facts emerge allows us not only to address change optimistically, but also to have empathy for the people around us who are navigating it, too.

Follow a model to manage change

Change is social. Organizations don’t change; people do. My colleague Patrick Howe cites this acronym from Prosci for managing change: ADKAR — awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement.

Note that once a leader makes the team aware of a new change, each of the subsequent levels happens below the waterline.

  • Do people desire this change?
  • Can we make the transition with our current toolset?
  • Have we communicated a plan for reinforcement?

It’s not what you change; it’s how you do it. The pace and timing for each person’s adoption will vary greatly. That’s why we manage it.

Collect people data to predict behavior

It’s critical that companies think about and put in place actual ways to influence people’s behavior. Training and tools are critical, but they’re not enough. Development ought to be curated based on data. Leaders need behavioral, cognitive and engagement data to predict and decide things like whom to hire to support this change, who is in the right role to lead it, or what development is required. This kind of data is your underwater flashlight, illuminating the objective driving forces influencing your change.

Develop EQ to build trust

Not only did integrity in leadership matter last year in spades, but it was also leaders’ emotional intelligence (EQ) that drove trust and connection, yielding true productivity.

Remember, when changes are made, people have feelings about those changes.

Change initiatives fall short when leaders fail to recognize and wrestle with how those feelings might be derailing the technical changes on the horizon.

A leader’s consistent communication must be punctuated with recognition that effort matters as much as outcome on high-performing teams. Imagine taking the time to show your people you understand and appreciate their effort as much as you care about the results they’re producing.

The most productive companies throughout the pandemic paused frequently to reconnect to their goals and clarify which behaviors would help them work together better.

Measuring your EQ clarifies your strengths and where you might improve. And, investing in building the EQ skills that will drive real connection with your people is the only way positive change is possible.

Your IQ might have gotten you here, but your EQ will get you there.


Want to hear more from Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett? Read her previous article “The pitfalls and potential of being feeling creatures who think.”

This article originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal on January 22, 2021.