When you’re leading change, it takes more than a strong plan, implemented well to succeed. It’s also vital to inspect that the actions and behaviors you THINK matter most are having the IMPACT you expect.
Everyone’s On Board, and We’re Still Struggling!
Steve, the CEO of an energy company, had thrown every ounce of energy into launching their new strategic product.
He was counting on this game-changing offering to help their company be stickier to customers in an increasingly commoditized industry. He also hoped it would attract new customers away from their competitors.
Steve had done so many things right to create clarity. He ensured employees at every level understood WHY the new product was so mission-critical to their long-term future.
His 5×5 communication strategy was more like 30×30. Everyone in every corner of the company knew the goals and their specific mission-critical behaviors to achieve them.
Steve had dedicated leaders whom he trusted leading through change nearly full-time. He had committed significant financial resources to see it through. People cared. They were working hard on bringing the product to market. They knew what they were supposed to do, and they were doing it.
But the program struggled to gain traction.
As Steve told it:
I was getting so frustrated about the lack of sales, I had reinforced why this was so important so many times, I was sick of hearing myself talk about it.
But the service reps were struggling to convert inquiries to sales. Then one day, I went into the contact center and took a few customers’ calls myself. The questions were tough.
I realized our new program was difficult to explain and our training had not prepared our reps to take those calls.
It occurred to me that no amount of explaining WHY this program mattered would help until or reps had the information to answer our customers’ questions. No marketing campaign or incentives matter if our reps were stumped by the calls they were receiving.
When I got closer to what was happening, I realized we not only had a gap in our training but there were also a few policies and procedures we hadn’t quite figured out.
When you’re looking to make a significant change, it takes more than clearly communicating what’s important and tight action plans to make it happen. It’s vital to show up curious to ensure the behaviors have the desired impact.
In this case, the reps could explain the value proposition with excitement and had learned to eloquently bridge to the sale in common inbound calls. But they couldn’t answer the deeper logistics questions that mattered most to prospective buyers.
When Leading Through Change: Schedule the “Show”
In our book Courageous Cultures, we call this “scheduling the show.” Scheduling the show means making a deliberate plan to inspect the behaviors you assume should be happening AND that those behaviors are having the impact you anticipate.
You can schedule a site visit, a skip-level meeting, or, like Steve, you can dive in and participate alongside your team.
The leaders who do this best master the art of the old Russian proverb made famous by Ronald Reagan and now repeated in conference rooms around the world: “Trust, but verify.”
To truly understand the support his team needed, Steve had to experience the initiative from the frontline and hear from customers.
And here’s what else he learned.
His frontline employees were much more interested in hearing his sales ideas when they knew that he knew how hard it was—and that he was vulnerable enough to admit it. In companies where the Show phase breaks down, we often hear complaints that “leaders just don’t get it.”
They stay away from the action. They count on frontline managers to inspect and raise issues, many of who lack the confidence or competence to do that well (see also Share Your Ideas: Practical Ways to Ensure Your Voice is Heard).
Leading Change: 5 Ways To Inspect What You Expect
- Model and test the behavior yourself
- Invite your team to show their approach
- Hold regular skip-level meetings and leadership visits
- Teach your team to ask courageous questions of one another
- Acknowledge the difficulty
When leading change it’s tempting to focus more on clarity than curiosity- telling people what needs to happen and why. It’s also important to show up curious to understand what’s happening and why.
1. Model and test the behavior yourself (and, if you’re a manager of managers, ensure they can do it too).
When I (Karin) was leading the store channel at Verizon, I found that one of the best ways to learn how to position our products to customers was to spend time on the floor talking to customers.
And there was a direct correlation between how well my managers could talk about our products and the sales results of their teams.
My team and I often learned that there were gaps in the training or nuances we could add that made our products easier to understand and more appealing when we rolled up our sleeves and practiced ourselves.
2. Invite your team to show you their approach
We know, most people cringe when they hear the words “role play.”
But do you know what works well to help fine-tune behavior? Role play.
When you’re leading change, one of the best ways to build momentum is to have your team practice and show you and one another the behaviors you’re looking to engrain.
3 . Hold regular skip-level meetings and leadership visits.
And, as Steve learned, it’s helpful to show up curious about the impact. Do the behaviors you’ve encouraged and trained have the results you desired?
Make it easy for your team to give you bad news and tell you what’s not working.
4. Teach your team to ask courageous questions of one another
Of course, in a courageous culture, it’s not just the leader “inspecting” what they expect, it’s everyone, coming to work asking “is this working?” “Is there a way we could do this better?”
Courageous questions are specific and humble.
- What’s one policy that really annoys our customers?
- If you could make one change to improve the customer experience, what would that be?
- When customers call, what’s their number one complaint?
- What is the most important action we take to delight our customers? How would you recommend we do that more consistently?
5. Acknowledge the Difficulty
One of the biggest frustrations we hear from employees when it comes to large-scale change is that their boss doesn’t “get how hard this is.” Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
It could be that the new behavior your expecting the team to embrace isn’t actually that difficult. But what IS hard is making the change on top of the twenty-seven other tasks they’re trying to manage, along with customer escalations and team members out with Covid.
Your team wants to know that you understand all they’re juggling. Give them an opportunity to show you that too. And of course, thank them for their efforts.
When leading change efforts, curiosity is key. Show up confident and clear about what’s most important, and curious about how it’s really going. Stay involved and model the way.
What are your best practices for leading through change and inspecting what you expect?