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How to Lead the Haters of Change

Change is an odd thing. While we know it’s going to happen, it seems to come in waves. At times we can wander through life and everything seems to stay the same (or at least in ways we don’t find disturbing in our constant effort to keep things the same), and at other times everything in our lives seems to change at once.

As I think about change I’m reminded of all the worn-out quotes connected to the topic:

“We can’t change the situation, we can only change ourselves.”

“There is nothing permanent except change.”

“Change is inevitable, growth is optional.”

Although we’ve heard them a million times (and while they’ve become clichés, they each speak truth about the topic of change), I am amazed at the constant struggle most people endure when dealing with change. The one thing we know for certain is that things are going to change, and we have a range of quotes reminding us that the power of dealing with change lies within us. However, people everywhere around you at this very moment are struggling through some change in their life.

Based on that, I’m not certain we can be reminded too often how to deal with change. We must deal with it in our personal lives, and we must help employees deal with it in our organizations. Great leaders don’t just force change on people around them. Great leaders prepare people in the organization for change. I address the topic in my book Engaged Leadership: Building a Culture to Overcome Employee Disengagement (John Wiley & Sons), and I’ve pulled that piece from my book to share some thoughts on how great leaders prepare an organization for change:

A new or adjusted vision for the organization will bring change, and most employees will not readily accept it. That’s not surprising. In fact, it’s simply not normal to eagerly accept change. If we do, it’s probably because we were a part of the initial discussion and can see the benefit of the change, or it was our idea in the first place. Either way, we’ve seen the future with the change in place and we’re willing to move in that direction.

For the majority in your organization, however, the benefit of the change may not be so obvious. Each employee has his own way of dealing with change. In fact, there are three different ways a disengaged employee will react to change: (1) There are those who will ignore it, and just keep doing what they were doing before. (2) There are those who will fight it because they don’t buy into the reasons for the change, or it is their sole mission in life to keep everything the same. (3) There are those who will react to it, either positively or negatively. For most disengaged employees, the reaction is usually negative.

Too often as leaders we just introduce change and assume our employees will accept whatever change we tell them to accept. After all, we’re paying them to do a job. As Directional leaders, we have a responsibility to prepare the organization for change. To get you started, here are some recommended action items to help you prepare the organization for change:

Agree on unity with your leadership team.

Many employees will react to a change based on the way their manager reacts to the change. I once worked for a boss who introduced a change in departmental policy with the following announcement. “As you know, the department has been considering this change. Although I don’t agree with it, the decision has been made. Quite frankly, I think it’s stupid, and I don’t want to do it, but it seems we don’t have a choice.” How many of us on that team do you think supported the change? Not many. As a leader, you have a responsibility to stand up and fight for whatever you know to be right when you’re with your leadership team. But when the decision is made, regardless of what position you took prior to the change, you have a responsibility to stand behind it 100 percent (provided the change is not illegal or immoral). If you don’t, then you’ve shown your employees that the leadership team can’t even agree to the change. The first step toward preparing your team for change is to have a leadership team on the same page.

Give the reason for the change.

A person ­doesn’t have to agree with a change to accept it. Remember, you don’t have to get everyone to agree with the change. You just have to get them to agree to the change. And most reasonable employees will accept it if it makes sense, even if they don’t particularly like it.

Tell them how it will affect them.

Somewhere in the back of an employee’s mind they may be wondering how a change will affect the organization. But the only thing they really want to know is how it’s going to affect them. Tell them up front and they have a better chance of accepting the change.

Use data to tell the story.

The world is full of left-brained, detail people. When they hear someone in leadership say, “I think building a new store in this area is important to the company,” it means very little to them. But if they hear, “I think building a new store in this area is important to the company because the most recent survey of this area indicates a 74 percent growth in population in the next five years. By purchasing the land and building a new store now, we project an increase of 250 employees to our workforce, and profits of more than ten million dollars in the fifth year.” Numbers can be powerful. In fact, numbers drive many of the changes our companies make. If they help build consensus of the vision, use them to tell your story.

Introduce the change as improvement, not change.

Nearly all change is implemented because someone believes it will lead to something better. I have heard many people say, “Oh no, not more change!” but I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh no, not more improvement!” It may be a simple concept, but it helps employees deal with change.

Celebrate the past and the future.

The change you are introducing may be the best idea in the world. But when someone feels the new way is a rejection of their old way, most people will object to the change. Celebrate the successes of the past. If you let them know you move forward on the shoulders of the people who succeeded in the past, you have a better chance of getting them to accept the change.

Most organizations that stay the same get left behind. To move forward, change is required. Finding a way to help employees through the change is a key to building consensus toward the vision.

Clint Swindall

© 2015 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit, or contact him directly