Influencing organizational change is undoubtedly a complicated endeavor. You have to assess your unique situation and determine when and how to use the vast array of influence techniques at your disposal. And yet, patterns appear when you look at what you are really trying to do when you influence others. Underlying all your options are five fundamental levers of influence you can apply to accomplish your goals. Anything you do to influence others will employ at least one of these levers.
In our busy workplaces, messages that don’t help us accomplish the task at hand can be easily overlooked. Introducing change adds more chaos and uncertainty to the workplace. To break through the clutter and reduce confusion, provide as much clarity as possible. Raise awareness of the need for change. Clarify expectations by directly communicating them and also by sharing stories and modeling behaviors to demonstrate what employees should do differently. Provide feedback to help people course-correct. Clearly communicate the vision the organization is trying to achieve, and establish goals and deadlines for getting there. Zero in on the key elements that people need to know, do and accomplish so they understand their part in the change initiative.
Even if people know what to do differently, they still need to be able to do it. Part of influence is enabling people to change. For those whose difficulty with change is internal, help them deal with their fears and emotions by developing support systems and fostering resilience. For others who need to increase their capability to change, build skills, provide tools, and find ways to make it easy. And when the organization itself gets in the way, remove obstacles, adjust the environment, and eliminate any behaviors that hinder change. Enabling people to change means building their personal ability and also removing anything that prevents them from changing.
People choose instinctively who and what will influence them, and the basis for that choice is trust. To directly influence people, they need to trust you. And to implement organizational change, they must also trust the leaders of the organization, their coworkers, and they also must believe the change itself will really work. Remove doubt about the change by addressing objections, respecting resistance, and reducing risk. Generate short-term wins to prove the change will work. Ensure alignment and consistency across the organization to help leaders gain credibility. Show respect, keep your word, and above all listen, while helping others do the same. Trust is a fragile commodity that is difficult to repair, so do whatever you can to build it, not break it.
Another lever of influence is to involve people so they feel like they own the change. When employees are a part of the change process, they are more likely to advocate for it instead of stand in the way. Involve people in clarifying what needs to change and designing the change process from the beginning. Invite them to participate by asking for ideas and input. Get people together to have conversations they wouldn’t otherwise have. Ask for commitment and delegate responsibility for implementing pieces of the initiative. Empower people to make decisions and to take action to achieve the desired results. When people feel they have contributed to the design and implementation of change, they essentially influence themselves.
Create the necessary energy for change by giving people a reason to participate. Establish a sense of urgency so they understand why things can’t stay the way they are now. Inspire them to work towards a common future with a vision that connects to their values. Find the emotional connection, and appeal to logic. Harness peer pressure by showing that others are already participating, and celebrate success. Tap into a range of emotions to spur people forward, from positive ones like pride, joy and hope to negative ones like guilt, anxiety and anger. Encourage, while holding people accountable. Provide the incentive to leave the comfort of the status quo and to exert extra effort to make things better in the future.
As you go about influencing change in your organization, consider which lever or levers you’re using. If you rely on just a few levers and overlook others, you’re missing the opportunity to increase your influence. Consider the individuals or groups whom you need to influence, select the levers that will best move them in the right direction, and then tailor the ways you influence to that unique situation. Apply all five fundamental levers of influence over time for maximum impact.