Raise your hand if you have experienced any change in your life this year. Silly question, I know. We all have experienced far more change than we ever bargained for. And it hasn’t been easy. There are no two ways about it, change is hard, and it’s persistent. And just as we individuals have experienced copious amounts of change in the last year and a half, so have the organizations we work for. Ever heard the saying, “Organizations don’t change, people do?” The cumulative impact of individual change leads to shifts (large and small) in a business. If people didn’t change, organizations wouldn’t be able to either.
Chief executive of IBM for nearly a decade, Lou Gerstner led one of the most successful business transformations in history. He said the most important lesson he learned from his experience in change and transformation is that “culture is everything.” He didn’t say the biggest lesson was the change methodology they used or the clarity of decision rights or reporting structure. He said the key was in the “culture.” Tend to your organization’s culture (the people), and it can significantly impact your change efforts for the better.
And yet, while most of us know intuitively that a healthy organizational culture is vital to successful change efforts, culture tends to be the first casualty during times of change. We hear things such as “they need to communicate better about this,” or “they aren’t looking out for our best interests,” or “they don’t care about me, they just care about their bottom line.” The culture becomes fractured into two opposing groups – us versus them.
According to Daniel Pink in his book “Drive,” When Robert Reich was U.S. Secretary of Labor, and he visited a company to talk with the employees, he would often conduct a “pronoun test” to determine the cultural health of that organization. He found employees who referred to their company in terms of “we” were more engaged than those who referred to the company as “they.”
When your employees buy into what you are doing (i.e., a major change effort), they tend to take more ownership.
When they are satisfied, they say things like “look at everything we’ve accomplished!” or “We are getting things done!”
When they’re dissatisfied, they disconnect. Employees start to say things such as, “they aren’t communicating with us” or “they need to fix that.”
Reich concluded that an employee who uses “we” feels more integrated, identifies more with the company and takes more ownership. This leads to employees who are more likely to be satisfied, engaged and effective at what they do. There’s a sense of belonging to the organization and a deep understanding of shared culture.
Bottom Line? Whether you are a new leader on a team, implementing a new program, instituting your fifth “covid” working arrangement or working on merging two companies, focusing more deliberately on the people and the connections you’re creating with them has a direct impact on the success of the change you’re trying to make.
So how can we as leaders ignite our employees’ deeper connection, cut through the resistance to change and thrive?
Build Trust through Conversation.
When we trust the people who we work with and work for, we want to show up. We want to succeed. Trust in others promotes teamwork, aids in conflict management and fosters creativity during times of uncertainty. There’s a sense of camaraderie – we feel connected, we feel a part of the process.
Trust comes not just from what you say but how you say it and how you behave after it’s been said. In the longer term, you build trust based on your persistent identity or how you show up with others repeatedly. Trust comes from the quality of the conversations you are having. The more honest and authentic the conversations, the more likely you will have a more trusting relationship. This is applicable both at the organization and the individual level. If the conversation stops, becomes muted or our dialogue consists only of top-down formal messaging with no real exchange, no real conversation, then all the possibilities for the individuals in that relationship, all the possibilities for what those individuals are trying to achieve, become smaller.
The simplest way to build trust in your conversations is to be here, prepared to be nowhere else.
In other words, really be present. The last time you spoke face-to-face with someone, were you looking at them or were your eyes roaming the room in a sort of perpetual surveillance? During your last phone conversation or Zoom call, were you genuinely listening, or were you scanning your email or sending an IM? Being “present” sounds simple, yet during times of change, our mind may be anywhere but “here.”
Sometimes the greatest gift we can give another is the purity of our attention. It takes effort. But when we focus on the here and now, rather than thinking about the agenda for our next meeting or the project plan that needs our approval, our conversations, our relationships and our outcomes are far richer, more meaningful and more productive.
When you are present with the people important to you, in a way that they feel individually seen, valued, heard and recognized, they are more likely to become present and engaged with you – you build trust.
And although we might think we don’t have the time and energy to be completely present during every single conversation, we actually don’t have the time and energy not to. When we are not present, we miss each other. We may hear every word and yet still miss the message entirely. And because missed messages often lead to misunderstanding, we’ll need to spend time and energy resolving them later.
Increasing the quality of the conversations you are having will help you build more trust and more emotional capital with your team, which will have a direct impact on supporting the change(s) you wish to implement.
So, ask yourself – who would benefit from your undivided attention?