Posted: 1:00 p.m. Friday, May 24, 2013
By Chester Elton
Employees will always resist change unless they believe the company's survival is literally at stake. Here's how to make it clear to them that it is.
There is no list quite as sobering to an entrepreneur as a list of the most promising young companies of two decades ago--most of which, you can be quite sure, don’t exist any more.
The fact is, as entrepreneurs, you stand on the edge of a burning platform: You have to keep moving to survive. Your ability to define the potentially fatal issues you face and separate them from the routine challenges of the day is your first step in galvanizing your employees to believe in your vision and strategy.
This is a reality of human nature: Most people will change only when anxiety over their very survival outweighs their resistance to learning something new. While employees like the excitement of a challenge, they also like to be comfortable in their work. In a faceoff, comfort usually wins. This is where survival anxiety comes into play; it drives home the painful realization that in order to succeed, you and your employees often have to make themselves uncomfortable.
The key to doing that is not to instill fear, but rather to frame serious threats in honest and real terms that employees can relate to. Before his company’s remarkable recent turnaround, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s sent a jarring 800-word e-mail to all Starbucks employees in which he claimed his company was losing the “romance and theatre” so core to its defining DNA. In short, he said, the company’s drive for growth was diluting its brand, and it was time to get back to the artistry of making coffee--for only such care and skill would allow them to deserve the premium they charged on their goods.
At the core of this idea is helping your people understand “why” your company does what it does. If you want to stress safety, for instance, don’t just concentrate on the tasks; instead remind your team that if they tie off their ladders and wear their hard hats it will help them go home to their families every night. Engage their pride and sense of responsibility by reminding them that junior workers are looking to them as examples.
Great leaders translate the ethereal concept of a business mission into day-to-day priorities for their people. They motivate the team by reminding them that they are building a better future and by providing the clear goals, values, and expectations associated with their role. When it works, your employees respond by focusing their energies on the tasks with the most impact.
No matter the size of your team or the challenges you face, it is your job as a leader to help your team understand why it’s not acceptable to remain where you are. You have to move them toward a better future, and reassure them that it’s safe to do so--in fact, it’s much safer to move than not to.
Chester Elton will be a speaker at this year's Inc. Leadership Forum. This article was co-authored by Adrian Gostick