"There is so much change happening! How do I get everyone behind me fast?"
That is one of the top questions executives ask me about for situations that have included:
Microsoft acquires a games studio for $375M and needs to rapidly get a return on that investment.
Wanted Analytics appoints new CEO to unlock the market value of the publicly traded company.
Xbox writes off a billion dollars due to hardware failure and needs to transform who buys their content and services.
Consumer electronics company on explosive growth curve needs to ship products faster.
Technology executive's new role triples responsibility and takes on a global team.
All of those scenarios required a rapid pace of change and there are two questions to ask those around you: Do you understand, and do you believe?
It all starts with you, of course. Begin by rating your own understanding of what is changing: Do you fully understand what is changing and why? Many times this is not clear even to top executives, and this can cause the greatest amount of confusion. (In the absence of information, people often make things up. They don’t do it maliciously; they do it to try to make sense out of things, but that may lead to more confusion.) Once you have rated your understanding, rate your belief in the change that is happening.
Next you should evaluate your team’s level of understanding and belief in the change.
There are four typical reactions to change. Take a look at the following descriptions of each reaction and consider where each of your team members fits: (Email me if you want the visual for this.)
1. Blind followers: While it is unusual to gain followership from someone who doesn’t understand, but has a high level of belief it will be successful, it does happen. We had a small pocket of blind followers when Xbox's secret Project Kinect was under wraps before the big reveal. Capture that reckless enthusiasm and help people understand where you are going. Once blind followers fully understand, they will become advocates for what you are trying to change.
2. Lost and disillusioned: Those who neither believe nor understand will be lost and disillusioned. When you have someone like this on your team, it is highly likely they will quit, which may be the right decision for you and the employee, but often this is not a conscious decision. You need to rapidly test if they are turnaround-able by helping them understand, if not, quickly cut them loose.
3. Cynical distractors: The hardest people to influence are the ones who fully understand what you are trying to change, but don’t believe and have no desire to participate. These often appear when a new leader takes the helm, they are quietly evaluating and waiting for the new leader to fail. The key is to get curious. Start with asking one simple question—why don't you believe this will work? Keep asking. The new executive who took on a global team, had many cynical distractors in his teams based around the world, we developed a fast way for him to improve communication with these teams which lead to some believing in him and his strategy, and others deciding to move on, making room for promoting others who could fully get behind his new strategy. The most important part was this happened fast, and didn't drag on for too long.
4. Breakthrough performers: The aspirational goal is to have your employees fully understand the change and fully believe in it. This is how you create breakthrough performers. Use these performers to create contagious understanding and belief. Get them to share their stories and understanding.
Finally, before you embark on any work on cultural change, know that there are two express lanes to achieving cultural change: fire the CEO, or change how you pay people. What you reward is what will drive people, and just ask anyone at Post-Ballmer Microsoft about the impact of a change in CEO on how a company runs.
Rapid growth often calls for tough decisions and change that makes people uncomfortable. Knowing how to help your team navigate the way through will mitigate the bumps and help you lead with speed. If you’re navigating through change, take time this week to evaluate where each of your team members is in the process.
Dedicated to growing your business,