How to Change People

The one question I am asked more frequently than any other is, “How can you get people to change?”  Many managers and business owners I talk to seem to be stumped by this question. They feel that people often resist change in order to keep things status quo, which is often motivated by fear of change.

While there are some very challenging change initiatives, converting people is not as mysterious as one might think.  I have found that there are seven things to consider when you want to “change people”, and the first thing may surprise you – let people change themselves. 

Let’s look at the following scenario: An employee (let’s call her Susan) is sitting at her desk on the ground floor on a bright sunny day.  A visitor pulls into the parking lot and the sun’s reflection off the windshield shines through the window blinding Susan.  What does she do? Remain as she is, blinded by the light?  No.  She will most likely change her sitting angle, close the blinds, or move her chair.  Does she grumble at the visitor?  Probably not.  She changes and corrects the situation herself.

Now, just as Susan closes the blinds so she can continue working, her supervisor stops by and says, “The quarterly report doesn’t work for me.  You need to change it to a monthly report,” and then leaves to address the next urgent matter.  Susan will most likely grumble because she doesn’t seem to have a say in the change.  She is being forced to blindly accept the change regardless of what that means to her workload and her process for generating the report.  As it stands, Susan does not support the change.

People don’t resist change. They resist being changed when it upsets their processes, their space, and their day.

Secondly, it is critical that you focus on the processes.  The majority of employees are process-minded people.  They keep the “machine” (our companies) running as work moves into their workspace.  Employees do their part and move it on to the next person.  The faster you can bring an upcoming change initiative down to the process level, the better.  As we’ve all heard, talk is cheap.  However, when you can bring a change idea down to the level of how it will impact your employees in their day-to-day workload and processes, they can begin to truly understand what the change means to them, the department, and the organization.  Once employees internalize the change to these levels, they can express valid concerns, show support, and ultimately begin making the change a reality.  If employees aren’t able to bring the change initiative to this level, they are left guessing what the idea actually means and they are hesitant to give their full support.

This leads us directly into securing employee buy-in.  This is done by involving the employees in the change process, using their ideas and process expertise to your advantage and by creating a culture where employees are encouraged to raise concerns before a change takes place.

The next item might surprise some people since what it suggests is often either taken for granted or is considered a luxury activity – define internal positioning.  It is important that all employees clearly understand how they as individuals and departments can fit into the organization and how they can support its’ goals.  Developing internal positioning documents creates benchmarks that can be used to determine the effect an upcoming change will have on the individuals and the department.

Recognizing challenges is one of my favorites.  Often, managers feel as though they are doing their employees a favor if they sugar-coat or minimize the challenges that a change initiative will present.

I am amazed that we feel we can’t afford a few hours of preparation time when beginning a change initiative (even when people have concerns and questions.)  However, we always find time later to undo, rework, and redo work that could have been accomplished proficiently the first time had pre-planning taken precedence.  Employees prefer investing time upfront instead of fixing problems later.

And finally, use the proper tools to guide the change process.  Find tools, strategies, and training programs that are designed to connect your policies and initiatives with the day-to-day workloads.  It is only when these two points are connected that you will begin to realize success in your change initiatives.

So there you are.  No rocket science.  Just solid people skills and strategies that put a process to that intangible concept called “change”.

Patrick Seaton is the President and Founder of Innovative Management Tools LLC – a products, services, and training company focused on helping organizations plan for, execute, and manage change initiatives and organizational improvements.  The company uses facilitated, group collaboration activities centered on specific problem sets and challenges to help employees visualize a situation, brainstorm next-step improvement ideas, and define action plans that move the people and organization forward toward defined goals.

Contact him at

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