Your Change is Off the Rails and You Don’t Know It

The meeting kicks off with a banner shouting the word congratulations in all caps. “We did it! We are live! Can I get a round of applause?”

…scattered clapping…

“Wow! Not what I was expecting. It’s been a long haul but we made it! We did it together!”

…crickets…

Don’t let this happen to you.

I’ve helped many organizations put major change in place, doing “all the right things” to prepare people only to find that not everyone made it across the line. They are not celebrating success. They are grieving loss or grousing at the pain of disruption.

How can that happen? Readiness assessments say all is well. Change Agents are not raising any issues. Leaders are saying all of the right things. It’s quiet on the frontline. Too quiet.

Beware the silence. When change happens, when it’s challenging, it’s easiest for people to do nothing. To say nothing and hope it goes away.

It never fails to be a revealing exercise when I tell leaders to interview a few stakeholders. One-on-one meetings in a safe space enable people to open up about what they really feel. It can be shocking…and energizing, providing clues about how to get back on track. 

Here are some subtle clues that it’s time to get up close and personal with stakeholders:

  • There are no questions during major announcements
  • Attendance at meetings or training sessions is lower than expected
  • Surveys produce only a few negative comments, but they are strongly worded
  • Mid-level managers cannot accurately describe what the change is about (BIG RED FLAG!)
  • You haven’t spoken to any of the most impacted stakeholders in over a month

In over 25 years of leading change, I’ve not found anything to replace a good conversation when you want to know whether people are picking up what you are laying down. Until you ask them, until you see it in their eyes, you can’t be sure they have all boarded the boat with you.

Whether leading a change or leading a team, take time to ask the tough questions: “About this thing we are trying to do…what do you think is on people’s minds? How can we do better?” I promise you will get something great out of what you hear.

Better to eat a bit of crow than arrive at the finish line alone.

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper