How to Get Leaders to Support Change Management
Written by Tim Creasey
Gaining support for change management requires a mindset shift in your leaders—and you have the power to help them. How? By talking about what you deliver rather than what you do. Shifting the focus away from day-to-day activities and toward the results we are attempting to achieve demonstrates the value of change management in terms that resonate with and motivate your leaders.
Focus on What You Deliver, Not What You Do
Let’s say you’re in an elevator with an executive leader who asks you what you do as a change practitioner, and you have 20 or 30 seconds to make an impact. What will you say? “I conduct readiness assessments, complete impact analyses, build strategies, create change management plans, and support integration into our project plans” is a pretty good description of the work of change management.
But if you want leaders to invest in change management, the better answer is, “I help our organization deliver the portion of project benefits that depend on employee adoption and usage.” This is a compelling answer. This focuses on what change management accomplishes. This anchors to what the leader cares about. This is what will pique the executive’s interest and get you an invitation to discuss how change management elevates project success. This is what you deliver, not what you do.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” —Simon Sinek
Gain Support, Budget and Resources for Change Management
To get commitment to change management in your organization, you must stop talking about what you do and start talking about what you deliver as a change practitioner. To keep conversations on the right track, be sure to provide context, focus on results, and choose the right words.
1. Give leaders the right context
We must communicate that the people side of change is critical, that it’s a must-have and not a nice-to-have. We must communicate that change management is the right way to treat people in times of change because they are our most valuable assets. But it is important to remember that this information alone only builds conceptual support. Leaders may appreciate the idea that change management is important, but we call this “getting to the head nod.” To secure resources, we need to get past the head nod.
To get past the head nod, we work to build contextual support and commitment, shifting the focus to the project or initiative’s success. This requires conveying why the people side of change and change management are important enough on this initiative to invest time, energy and resources in them. To provide this context, we ask: What percentage of overall results and outcomes depends on employees adopting and using the change? If you want to see leaders really start to think about change management in a new way, ask this killer question, because the adoption contribution for our most important changes is often quite significant .
“Priority is a function of context.” —Stephen Covey
2. Focus on the real problem leaders need to solve
What are the actual problems our senior leaders, project teams, and organization in general are experiencing? How do we position change management as a solution to those problems?
Leaders have too many things to focus on, such as innovations, managing expectations, and driving more value for customers. Not having change management on a project or an initiative is not the problem leaders have. The real problem is they have an important change on the table, and they signed up to make it happen, so it needs to deliver results and outcomes to the organization, to peers, to shareholders. What is it about this project that keeps the leader up at night? What is it about this project that gets them up in the morning? Change management is the not the goal—it is the way we enable the leader to achieve their goals.
Prosci research shows a direct correlation between how well we manage the people side of a change and how well we deliver on a project promise. We are six times more likely to meet or exceed project objectives with excellent change management. And delivering expected outcomes on projects is a real problem you can help leaders solve with change management.
3. Choose language that conveys value
Words make worlds. The language we use to convey the value and impact of what we do directly influences the commitment and investment we receive from leaders. When you begin talking about value of change management, the words you use matter.
Years ago, Prosci Founder Jeff Hiatt said leaders speak three languages: finance, finance and finance. I would add strategy, execution, competitive advantage, core competency, and their own personal legacy. But the point is, their language is the language of “deliver,” not the language of “do.” Your job as a change practitioner is to express the value of change management in the leader’s language.
Think about how the words you use most often in your work. Talking about assessments, strategies, training plans, and communications plans won’t help you connect with leaders. Talking about success, results, outcomes, value, benefits realization, adoption and usage, and project return-on-investment (ROI) will.
Change Management Delivers People-Dependent ROI
Provide context. Focus on results. Choose the right words. What we do in change management can be quite nebulous to others. When working to gain commitment and support for change management in your organization, you have the power to shift mindsets. But only when you when you stop talking about what you do and start talking about what you deliver.