Updated: Sep 10, 2019
If you have ever been involved in a large organizational change, you've surely said - or heard others say - something akin to, "How do we make these employees have a mindshift? They are resisting the change because they just don't want to change." I used to do this as well, and I could never figure out the secret to changing other people's minds.
Several years later, it finally hit me ... I was the only person that needed to have a "mindshift". I was expecting hundreds of people to change how their brains work over something I wanted, rather than me changing my perspective to benefit literally everyone else. I used to think my ideas were amazing and if anyone was resisting, it was because of their own insecurities or misunderstandings. In fact, the reverse was true. It was on that day I completely changed how I implemented organizational change, and a few tenants were at the core of how I worked:
1. PERSPECTIVE IS REALITY
No matter how simple and clear the change is, if my target audience claims it is complicated, the reality is that it is too complicated. No amount of telling them it is more simple than they think will help that. It could be that it actually is too complex, or that the training didn't efficiently explain it, or that an individual needs a much lower-level explanation to finally get it. Whatever the case, I need to treat whatever my audience says about the change as factual.
2. THE SUCCESS OF THE CHANGE IS MY RESPONSIBILITY
What we often see is that change agents - be it executives, HR, or consultants - will blame the lack of success on employees: "They refuse to use the new system", "They just don't 'get it' like you and I", "They don't want to change - they just want to keep things how they are." This creates an "us vs them" mentality within the organization and means the majority of effort in the change is spent fighting and arguing about who is right and why. Instead, whomever is implementing the change must accept full responsibility for what works and what doesn't. If a simple concept is believed to be too complex, what can you do differently to make it simpler? Update your training? Remove the more criticized parts of the change? Explain the simple parts and let the rest fall into place over time? There are always other options, but it falls on you as the change agent to make it successful, not on every other employee to just take your word for it and change everything they know.
3. CHANGE IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE
Some people have an easier time than others, but that's often just because of what we know of the change, where we are at in our lives at the time, and how we perceive the benefits and risks. I only try to implement changes I think are beneficial and simple, so of course I stand behind them. What I often forget is that what I consider a benefit and what someone else considers a benefit are completely different. A new company car in exchange for 5% of my pay would be a no-brainer for me, but for someone with a Tesla who is living paycheck-to-paycheck, that's all negative with no upside.
Similarly, if I "just get" an idea, but others don't, that's not on them. Nothing is "obvious", "common sense" doesn't exist, and there is nothing that anyone "should" understand. My life experiences combined with my unique brain mean I understand things differently than anyone else. I may easily understand complex self-management systems, but I have no idea how to make a computer and have a hard time understanding all the big words that make people sound smart. Is that fact disconcerting? I wouldn't know.
4. CHANGE ISN'T EASY
While change is going to look and fee different for everyone, it's difficult in some way for almost everyone. We inherently want something that is convenient, easy to understand, hassle-free, and full of benefits. Getting that, however, is easier said than done. It not only helps the success of a change to acknowledge it isn't easy for those going through it (and those implementing it), but it also helps me to figure out how I can make it easier and less scary. Change can be made hard not only by how it's being introduced, but by systems already in place. People are far less likely to willingly engage a risky change if they know they might get fired for making a single mistake or misunderstanding how things work in this new system. Figure out what is in each person's way and help remove that roadblock for them.
By constantly reminding myself of these things, it has completely changed the dynamic of how I teach and speak to others. Even better, it has radically altered how easily changes are adopted. It's no longer me vs them forcing a change down their throats, but me working for them to help them with a change they want for themselves.
So, the next time you hear a change agent say, "They should change their mindset", please remind them that it's far easier and more efficient to change one person's perspective than everyone else's.