I attended a meeting shortly after I stepped into my new role at the University of Alberta. Big changes were taking shape and, as vice-president, external relations, I was forming an entirely new portfolio charged with advancing a unified vision for the university. This was my first time meeting most of the people on the video call. For many, it was also their first time meeting their new teammates – and they had questions.
If we had been in a room together, they almost certainly would have been sitting back in their seats with their arms crossed. The way I handled this meeting would either ease the coming transition or make the next few months even more difficult.
Last month, I shared how Don Cummings, managing partner at National Growth Partners and a trusted advisor of mine, taught me to see change as an opportunity for growth. When Don talks about how to facilitate change, he talks about exactly what I saw that day. According to Don, people don’t resist change, they resist being changed.
“When change is on the horizon, we subconsciously ask ourselves, ‘Is this being done to me, or is this being done with me?’” he says.
It’s a small but mighty difference to keep in mind. You may be setting out to change your organization, but your organization is made up of people. If you want to accomplish your goals, those people need to be included on the journey in an intentional and significant way. Building relationships in your work is especially important during a time of change. Being new in the role with the imminent need to restructure, I didn’t have the luxury of time to build relationships but there were some things I could do: listen and respond and demonstrate to my team that they were heard, even if I couldn’t implement every suggestion. This builds trust — a key component to good relationships. I could also share a compelling vision and help people see themselves as a part of it.
Sharing a digestible and succinct vision and communicating a sense of urgency as to why changes are needed creates buy-in and the momentum for people to get on board. If you help your people understand why change is occurring and make them a part of it, they can do the same for their colleagues and clients across your business. It’s helpful to identify ambassadors of change in and around your organization — and lead your efforts and understanding from within. Use every channel and resource available to you to keep people informed and ensure your choices and behaviour going forward support your messages.
When somebody exercises resistance — because it’s not possible to please every single person — don’t look at it as a failure. One good conversation can honour their feelings and give you the gift of a new perspective.
So, how did my meeting end? After creating space for people to share what they liked about our proposed new structure, offering ideas to make it better and sharing what they feared about the change, it wasn’t long before they started talking about how the new structure could work for them — and that created a path forward.
In that moment, I realized we were going to successfully implement change and we were going to do it together.