Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Acceptance Leading to Change

Shocking news: most people would rather feel validated than attacked. They want to feel good about the work they've done and the ideas they have. That's part of what is scary about a new person or a new position - it is an opportunity for embarrassment, chastising, and being told you're wrong to occur. And that's uncomfortable.

I talked with a woman last week who is the office manager for the president of a local college. Her boss - the president of the college - is new, and she came to the school with him. There's an entire office staff that was already there. They already had procedures, and ideas, and methods. The new office manager and the new president also had ideas.... And things were gonna change. This is a big scary moment.

This kind of moment happens whenever there is a change. When you're the new boss, or when you make a process or technical change. If you're the new manager or the new change agent (consultant, coach, engineer, whatever), it's up to you to make sure that several things happen:
- the needed change occurs
- you still have a team when you're done (no one quits!)
- that team can still work together effectively (no one hates each other!)

The key is to start with acceptance. The old way was not 100% bad. There is always something good in there. Start with that. Accept the good in what the team was doing, and use that to keep people engaged throughout any change. If you can avoid "no" and "wrong", you're doing well. Instead, use "yes" and "like but with a twist" statements to make change palatable. Leading questions are also useful to help the problem identification and the idea come from the team itself, not from outside. The team will embrace and fight for a change they want, and they'll band together to do it. That way you get both the change you need and a stronger, happier team.

It's not enough to make a change. You have to make the change in a team-preserving way. Accept the team, make sure they feel safe to go through change, and you'll come out much stronger in the end.

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