I recently began a new job with a large organization. The organization is somewhat unique to me because it consists of two legacy organizations each made up of multiple companies. Each organization operated independently until recently when ownership decided to merge the two legacy organizations into a single corporation with shared visions and goals.
“Change is achievable in any environment, as long as all layers are iniated in the change process.” – Denis Baker
I was hired to help create a transformational change where safety and health are integrated into the entire operational culture. I believe this is the only practical method for achieving safety and health goals and ultimately an incident-free culture. Safety and health should never be “first” or a “priority,” but rather a core value integrated into the culture of the organization. You see, priorities change, values do not and first is not always. I often use a pie analogy to visualize this. The pie is divided into equal pieces, with safety and health having an equal slice of the total pie. No more, no less, but equal.
Whether your profession is safety or finance, the successful process of change is the same. Here are 10 principles to follow when initiating change. Execute these, and your efforts will be made fruitful.
1. Have compassion and understanding. Regardless of circumstances, change is scary, and you represent a terrifying unknown. Every location I visit, after we complete the professional introductions and small talk, I am met immediate resistance. And most will try and distance themselves. When I begin touring, asking questions and making suggestions, encounter looks of concern or frustration and often hear, “but that is not the way we do it,” or we’ve always done it this way.” To help soften my perceived impact, I often encourage their suggestions or solutions. This creates a great team-centered environment that allows them to consider any of my initiatives. Probably, the most important thing I’ve come to realize, is their reactions aren’t personal; they are just responding to an uninvited change.
2. Reach out and connect with those affected by the change. Success in anything cannot be achieved without effective relationships. Before a relationship can begin, one must first connect with the person or group. Do this by identifying common ground. Look for small wins that build respect and credibility. In the beginning, change can be frustrating for both sides. It will be tempting to simply brush off questions or concerns, because you may feel it is easier to just do it. And it is. However, I BEG YOU to RESIST that urge! No doubt we want quick results, but you’re better off starting slow and finding common ground. Find opportunities for one-on-one interactions. For change to be successful, connecting with those affected requires consistent, realistic, heartfelt conversation.
3. Influence the influencers. Influence those who have influence, without neglecting the others. Pay attention to group dynamics and identify the influencers. Identify who they are, and get to know them immediately. Learn what they value and be transparent in addressing their needs, concerns or wants. Just remember, you can’t do or control what you don’t control.
4. Expect resistance and don’t ignore it. Resistance is always present for any change, especially culture change. Don’t think it will go away on its own, it won’t. In fact, if left unattended, it will multiply and infiltrate the entire organization. Once this occurs, your job just got tougher. Meet with the discontent. Put your pride aside and listen. Address each issue as it comes up, but don’t make any promises or commitments you can achieve. If that happens, you just lost all the trust and respect you’ve been working to achieve. Gain buy-in by understanding the reasons getting buy-in for your vision and goals for change. Realize that most of the resistors are the influencers.
5. Communicate your values. In the safety profession, it’tempting to withdraw when you encounter conflict, but you have to do the opposite. You’ve got to overcommunicate. Look for ways to demonstrate your values as you explain your vision. You want to reassure people that your principles are positive and show where your values align with theirs. The key is to be steady, positive and consistent.
6. Learn from other leaders. How do others achieve change? Read, ask and network, looking for ways and ideas that might work in your situation. I often tell people to go with their gut. Meaning, if your intuition is saying yes or no, then follow that “gut feeling” and move forward. As we say in the safety profession, “steal shamelessly.” Great leaders learn to steal the best ideas. Remember, their approach or tactics are vetted and proven.
7. Go forward boldly. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. (Just be sure to fix them faster than you make them!) Stop and assess yourself, your process and your progress often, and course-correct as needed. Mistakes are inevitable. Keep it moving.
8. Prioritize and act. Identify the one or two areas where you will receive the greatest benefit and make that your priority effort. However, always evaluate your progress, the level of reception, the level of effectiveness and be ready to make changes as needed.Remember you are the change agent, you must be willing to change.
9. Create wins for the organization. Never underestimate the power of early victories. They give people confidence to keep pushing forward, even though turning the ship is hard. Achieving an early win builds momentum. People trust leaders with a proven track record. They will accept changes from people who have led them to victory before. Remember, it is easier to steer a moving train than stop it.
10. Identify and equip other leaders. If you want to sustain change and start building momentum, you must start developing and equipping the leaders. This is something many organizations fail at. We take the best worker and make them the leader. Great principle, but horrible execution. We tend to neglect the coaching and training needed to make that person successful. Look for those who rise to the top and pour into them your coaching and mentoring efforts to see them become the best leaders possible.
When I am looking for a job, I tend to identify companies where change is needed. In fact, I have been a crucial part of at least six organizations where a cultural change was required. I approach each opportunity by implementing these 10 principles. Execute these 10 principles and watch change take place.