Four Crucial Steps that Enable Individuals to Change

Before we talk about how you can inspire your followers to embrace change, let’s recap:

  • We’ve seen how leadership theory has evolved from a focus on the leader’s management style to a transformational view that looks at leadership through the needs of all stakeholders and the leader’s ability to enable followers to work toward a common goal.
  • We’ve identified how transformational leaders can work from within the organization (intrapreneurs) or from without (entrepreneurs).
  • We’ve observed that transformational leaders face a completely different context than leaders faced even a decade ago. Greater interconnectivity and globalization have given rise to today’s “complex adaptive systems” – environments that are evolving at an exponential pace and in non-linear directions, in which one human decision impacts another, setting off an unpredictable chain reaction.
  • When proposing change, transformational leaders need to factor in all stakeholders – not just stockholders.

How to inspire stakeholders to alter their behaviors and mindsets in a world that is ever-changing

The question then becomes: How do you inspire your stakeholders to alter their behaviors and mindsets in a world that is changing around them at breakneck speed? The answer to this question will probably look familiar to you, most likely because you have taken part in a corporate change management initiative. This process looks something like this:

  • First, you gather your team in a room and craft a vision of where you want the company to go. You might use business jargon or design thinking to dissect the problem in order to promote an astute vision. Or, you might skip problem-solving and jump straight to proposing a lofty end goal.
  • Next, you create an approach, defining a set of strategic goals with “swim lanes” of processes and activities to reach them. You draft action plans with timelines, roles and responsibilities. You discuss the communication needed to promote the strategy.
  • Finally, you set up an organizational structure and other workflow changes needed to support the vision. Your change management plan is fully positioned for success, or so you think…

People do not change because you tell them to change

When change is attempted through such a top-down and linear approach, the relationship between strategy creation and execution inevitably breaks down. Statistics show that human nature favors the status quo: 75% of corporate change management programs fail. Why? They fail because those in charge ignore one simple truth: People do not change because you tell them to change.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Peter Drucker

Top-down change management programs are predestined to fail

People only change when they have a personal catalyst. Failure to picture corporate change through the lens of the individual journey is the reason three-fourths of change strategies never make it to successful execution. Because driving change in an exponentially shifting environment is more complex and unpredictable than ever, linear, top-down change management programs are predestined to fail. The reason is pretty simple, in the words of Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Convince stakeholders it is in their interest to change

A true transformational leader convinces individuals – both within and outside of the organization – that it is in their rational interest to change by aligning their individual change journeys with that of the organization. Transformational leaders use a holistic, top-down and bottom-up approach, using what they can control – the corporate change journey – to inform progress through the individual change journey.

Embedding a sense of urgency, driving change acceleration, and communicating and demonstrating highly visible interim “wins” are critical components to being in the 25% of change programs that succeed. The key is to use the organizational change process to accelerate an individual’s personal transformation experience:

  • Create a vision—a new status quo goal – to drive individual awareness that change is occurring and is needed, ultimately working according to the mission (culture). A good mission and vision document becomes the glue that holds people together. It represents more than just an end-stage goal. A different culture with clear values and beliefs must be co-created with early adopters and key stakeholders.
  • Foster an approach that enables knowledge and a personal desire to be part of that change. Once individuals are aware of the new vision and agree that a new status quo must be achieved, messaging the vision and creating an approach that enables stakeholders to say to themselves “I must be part of this change” are key. People respond to efficiency and effectiveness examples that address known or unknown pain points.
  • Provide the right enablement tools to give people the ability to live the change. As you architect how to get people from where they are to where you need them to be, pay attention to what they know and don’t know how to do. This includes both the “skills” needed to live in the new way of being as well as the “will” to make the changes needed in how work is done (for example, working with a cross-functional group of stakeholders on product development versus working in a silo). Make sure that the enablement tools match the need. A new process may require a mix of live meetings, simulation training, and a repository of templates, for example.
  • Institute relevant mechanisms that reinforce the new way of being. If you ask someone to change how they are working and what they are working toward, yet all of the process and reward systems around them are not refreshed to accommodate the new goals, change cannot and will not be sustained. Make sure new goals are tied directly to bonuses and that there is a visible plan in place for behavior course correction. Transformation is not a switch; it requires constant check-ins in which accountability for adopting new approaches and reaching interim goals (monthly goals are best) are shared and used as a continuous cycle for the right momentum.

Be one of 25% of change management programs that succeed

If you are going to create one of the 25% of change management programs that succeed, you need to give serious consideration as to how you will translate these four steps into concrete actions. The way you go about creating a real connection with your followers is a first step, and the subject of my next post.

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