Without change there can be no progress, development or growth. Understanding that changes are necessary to support the development and attainment of any vision or goals is an important starting point.
However change can, and does, have a psychologically negative impact on many individuals because as human beings we tend to be creatures of habit, and once a behaviour is formed we’re reluctant to alter it. This conditioning or programming is formed over time but a shift in mindset is needed to recognise what’s holding us back, and with that comes the start of accepting what needs to change.
As a leader, it can be tricky to navigate change when you have to bare in mind the impact on others as well as yourself, but it is important to address the impact on everyone involved. If you think a certain change is necessary, but the team does not agree, how do you move forward and incorporate their suggestions?
Dealing with the barriers to change
The biggest barrier to change can come from individuals within your team who don’t have the understanding or appreciation of why the change is required or how it can create the most positive outcome. Talking to these individuals on a one to one basis and addressing their concerns is the best way to guide them through the change. More often than not, it will take several conversations for them to become more comfortable with the idea, whilst going through their own internal process of accepting the change and addressing its direct impact on them. Through taking time to understand their concerns you can provide context and highlight the benefits which they may not have considered; this also helps you to completely refine your idea and process and confirm if this is the best course of action. There is no guarantee that they will accept the change, and sometimes there is a limit to how much you can do.
Take a personal approach when addressing the negative thoughts
When I have implemented changes in structure, sales process or sales strategy in organisations, it was most successful when I managed to address the negative thoughts that were flowing through a team member’s mind.
When presented with change, I found that the team would start thinking about what it meant for them personally and what they would need to change. At that initial stage people tend to worry less about the wider business, or why the change is needed for the greater good of the team. So if you address the concerns that they personally have about the change and its impact on them specifically, you have a better chance of success. If on the other hand you’re unable to identify with their concern or don’t address the issues then, whilst they may accept and work within the change, they will not be convinced by it, the doubt will remain, and they will lack the necessary understanding and even motivation to give 100%.
Encouraging curiosity and questioning.
I am an advocate of encouraging my teams to question anything they were unhappy with, didn’t agree with or understand. This openness is critical in ensuring that they had clarity with regards to why certain changes were needed and the positive impact it would have on them, the team and the wider business.
On many occasions I remember my boss and I discussing changes that needed to be made in my team because of broader business challenges and the impact of competitors. I knew some of the proposed changes would receive a positive reaction, whilst others I was unsure and unconvinced about. Irrespective of my personal bias, I would always try to understand what the objective was and the desired outcomes that were sought. If I knew the answers to these two questions then I would be able to design and develop better models and solutions to facilitate the change for my team.
Sometimes my boss and I would disagree on changes but this was healthy and provided an opportunity for us to understand each other’s perspective and develop a more robust solution. If there was an impasse, we would park it, and either involve other colleagues or review what we were trying to do. We both understood that without mutual agreement and understanding there was no point pushing forward with the change as we weren’t convinced. This is an effective method to understanding the impact of any proposed changes on all members of the team.
Another strategy is to approach the person who is the complete opposite to you and your way of thinking on the team first. In doing so you will be able to inform the individual of the change in advance to ensure that they start to think about it and you begin to understand the initial concerns of others and ensure that you address those concerns when talking to rest of the team, whilst highlighting the benefits with those specific barriers and others in mind. Approaching someone first who thinks differently to you can also expand your viewpoint to things you may never have considered.
Prioritise effective and open communication channels
Change within organisations is managed most effectively when there is consistent communication and where the team are fully involved throughout the process. Change can be navigated in a team environment through the use of brainstorming sessions to discuss the issue and role-playing scenarios to identify potential solutions as this engages everyone and makes them feel valued. It is a great way to share different points of view and get the team involved in the decision-making process. The earlier you involve them, appreciate their concerns and manage objections, the better their understanding will be, and the more time they will have to process and come to terms with the change if it something they do not agree with at first.
It’s common and normal for the Sales Manager or Leader to feel uncomfortable during the change cycle, or even have moments of doubt. This is predominantly because no matter how well prepared you are, you won’t have all the answers to give to the team or a crystal ball to predict how things will pan out. Ensure adequate support is in place for inexperienced leaders so they too have guidance from more senior members of staff in the change process. With experience you will be able to learn how to mitigate risks earlier and understand the impact of different types of changes better. There is always an element of uncertainty and risk with any change being implemented but with open communication channels at all levels; feelings of unease can be mitigated.
Change is a constant within the business environment so developing a strategy that supports proactive engagement and open discussion with all members of the team is critical for any transformation to succeed. The better the leader understands the issues and concerns and is able to address these issues, the greater the chance of acceptance by team members and overall success.