Does this sound too familiar to you?  “Even when change is needed, when it’s obvious to everyone we need it, how come so many people still resist it?  How do I get everybody on board?”  

Consider this.  It’s all about the conversations.

Indeed, organizational changes have to be thought out and well planned, with a vision of what it will look like and how the benefits will show up. But knowledge alone does not change behavior. Hope actually gives it a better chance, and that happens in conversations.

When our office changed from Microsoft to Mac, there were dozens of discussions about what had to change, what I had to know, and how often I had to ask for help. But it was Josh, our technical guru, who made the difference. I was easily frustrated in what I didn’t know and wondered out loud why we just didn’t go back to what we had before. Josh asked me what was going on (more than once), listened to my frustrations (over and over), and explained to me why this transition would work so well for our office (very patiently).

Yes, he knew the technology, but he also knew I needed to understand. Our conversations gave me hope.

As one of the leaders in our company, I needed that. Without the conversation, I could have gotten stuck in the change process myself, and then how helpful could I be for our employees who had their own frustrations?

Creating opportunities for conversations becomes a key role leaders can play during change initiatives. Employees stay more engaged when they can vent frustrations, offer feedback, discuss concerns in team meetings, open forums, or town halls.  Without these conversation moments, employees make up their own stories, and they are usually not even close to the truth.  That’s what happens when there is a void of information.

During change, you can never over communicate. Here’s why: “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, or the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.” This insight from William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions, reaffirms the conversation imperative.

Want to find a doable way to create conversations that honor the internal transitions?  Try a Team “Pulse Check”.  It’s a practice I created years ago,  involving leaders and employees in conversations that engage both knowledge and emotions, both change and transition. This five-step team meeting can be held weekly for no more than 30-45 minutes, using the same agenda each time. You and your employees can decide when you don’t need to hold them anymore.

Step #1: Ask each team member to share one problem or challenge they experienced that week regarding the change. Explain they each have one minute to share, and time them. Ask a different employee to be the Timer each week.

  • The benefit of this is you will hear the problems they are facing instead of having them vent in each others’ offices. It’s only when you know what the problems and challenges are that you can do something about them. Write down these challenging problems and get back to the group at the next meeting with any updates.
  • If people don’t get a chance to vent, they have a hard time moving on.
  • You may want to explain that the timing insures everybody gets heard in the group. Asking each person also avoids the situation of one or two people dominating the venting conversation.

Step #2: Next, ask each team member to share a success story from the week. Explain they each have one minute to share. Use the same Timer for this activity, too.

  • Employees like to know what is working during change, so hearing success stories from their colleagues gives them hope and understanding.
  • If you want to add more time so people can ask questions, feel free.
  • Listen for bright spots, those places where the change is working.

Step #3: Share any data that quantifies the change so people can see and hear directly from you what is going on.

  • Remind people of where the change is going and the benefits.
  • Interpret and discuss the positives and negatives of the numbers with the team members. Ask for their conclusions about the numbers.
  • Celebrate the positives.
  • Ask for their input on what can be done about the negative numbers or how they can build on the positive numbers. As you listen, continue to ask, “What else?” until they have no more responses.

Step #4: Ask each team member for a question they would like answered, or a problem they would like help in solving about the change.

  • You may answer or solve the question in the meeting, or take it on to answer in the next week’s meeting.

Step #5: At the end of the meeting, ask each person to rate the meeting on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being terrific and one being terrible.  

  • After everyone has given their rating, ask them next what it would take to get the rating to a 10.
  • As each person is answering, write their ideas down.  You’ll learn what worked and what didn’t, and so will they.
  • They will also feel heard and understood.

When you offer opportunities for conversations, you enable everyone to develop their response-ability with thoughtful, proactive choices. Without them, your organization is at the mercy of emotional reactions, reacting instead of choosing.

What’s at stake is the success of your organization’s change effort. Leading change requires managing both the structural side, creating a vision and a plan, and the human side, listening to what people need and building hope. Employees want a leader who can do both.