Eight Principles for Successfully Introducing Change to Your Team

By Kim Wright Wiley  •  February 2, 2010

rTo give readers an overview of change with specifics for a sales organization, Selling Power spoke with keynote speaker and authority on change Garrison Wynn.

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You know how it goes – just mention that you want to do things a little differently, and all of a sudden the complaints and objections start to fly. But by following eight rules suggested by Wynn, you can minimize resistance and show your sales team how to make change work.
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rSome people change willingly, even joyfully, seeing each change as a chance to shed old baggage and start anew with a nice clean slate…
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rBut those people are rare. Most of us accept change only when it’s thrust upon us, and even then we do so reluctantly. Our brains are actually hardwired to resist change and even in the most extreme cases – for example, your doctor says that if you don’t stop smoking it will kill you – only one person in nine manages to make and sustain genuine change. In a world where eight out of nine people would literally rather die than change, is it any wonder that managers cringe at the thought of announcing a merger, an acquisition, a new product line, a territorial shake-up, or – horror of horrors – a restructuring in the compensation formula?
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rThe 2005 Best Practices in Change Management Report, a survey of 500 executives, concluded that “resistance to change” is the main reason why organizational changes fail.
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rBut there are ways that managers can overcome this resistance. For starters, they can acknowledge that since our resistance to change occurs on an emotional level, the most successful change methods address people’s emotions, not their intellect. Managing change isn’t just a matter of explaining to people why the change is a good idea. In fact, if you go into the meeting armed with analysis and quantitative measurements, you may unwittingly trigger the most powerful emotion of all – fear. Then they’ll really dig in their heels.

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In order to keep your sales team calm, focused, and optimistic during a change, remember these eight principles.
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r1. Start small
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rA bold new beginning calls for a bold new strategy, right? The best way to start is to bring in an outside team of experts to explain why the old way was wrong and institute the radically improved system, right? Right?
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rWrong. According to Wynn, “one of the most critical mistakes that managers make is coming in with the big sweeping gesture.”
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rLook at this way. You have to assume that your current sales force has some attachment to the old way or, at the very least, they’ve become competent at dealing with it. Their thoughts may run along these lines, “But I know this way. I’m an expert. If they change it, I’ll no longer be an expert. In fact, I’ll know exactly as much as that 22-year-old sitting at the desk beside me.” No one likes going through the beginner stages – to some degree we all want to coast on our power and authority – and this resistance is strongest in long-term employees. Wynn calls these people “senior beginners” and says, “in a changing situation people may believe that their knowledge and expertise suddenly won’t carry as much value. In order to overcome this fear, you must reassure them that their experience still counts.” In other words…
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r2. Don’t trash the old way
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rRemember, the people you’re talking to are successful because they’re masters of the old way, so you won’t win them over by knocking what worked in the past. Instead, stress that the change isn’t as big or as different as it looks.
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rMost companies do the opposite. When introducing a new computer program, for example, they might open with something along the lines of, “This software is a drastic departure from what we were using. It’s so much better.” A smarter introduction would be, “This software is similar to what we’re using now” and then, once the similarities are outlined, add “and here are some ways it’s better.”
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r“Make the connection between the old way and the new way first, then show the differences,” says Wynn. “That way they can see that the old way is the foundation for the new way and that their expertise with the old way will make it easier for them to transition into the new way. Once they understand that the change means getting better or at least equal results to the old way, and that their experience still has value, they’ll be more likely to spread that positive message throughout the organization.”
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r3. Show them that the new way has advantages – for them, that is
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rWhile it’s nice to know how the change will impact the corporate bottom line, most employees perk up only when they see how it specifically will make their jobs easier, faster, or more lucrative. “When talking about the advantages of the change, keep the comments specific to that individual employee,” says Wynn, “and stress the short-term advantages. Telling a 25-year-old that something will bring a positive result in five years is like telling him it will never happen. People respond to tight, close deadlines. They don’t want to hear, ‘This will make things better for everyone someday.’ They want to hear ‘This will make things easier for you next month.’”
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r4. Collect feedback and create open communication
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r“Just making information available is not communication,” says Wynn. “Face-to-face communication is the best method of explaining change and email is the worst. Some companies have an email culture and just toss the information out there and expect people to climb aboard. It’s better to have a meeting, explain and outline the concept, and then, if it’s really complicated, send a follow-up email reviewing the details.”
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r5. Obtain support from all levels
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rExecutive involvement is crucial for successful change, but you can’t stop there. Wynn says “at every level, in every division, there’s at least one person whose job has an impact on the masses. In a group of 100 people, there might be four or five who have the power to sway the group, and if these people don’t like the change they will spread poison to no end. Managers must identify these people who have the ear of the masses, sit down with them, and make sure they understand the advantages of the change. Then they will go forth as advocates and agents among their peers.”
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r6. Accept the fact that everyone won’t accept the facts
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r“Some people are more flexible than others,” says Wynn. “Based on their personalities, how they were raised, or their life experiences, some people will never be able to adjust to change. If you manage 350 people, the odds are not all of them will be able to transition, no matter how well you present it. Do the best you can, but accept that you can’t wait for a 100 percent positive response.”
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r7. Give them some time to get used to the idea
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rIf you announce that you’re implementing the big change at 9 a.m. tomorrow, they’re bound to panic. “Prepare them as much as you can in advance,” says Wynn. “If training is needed, be sure you allow the time to get them training.”
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r8. Your change team should be composed of people who have good relationships with your sales staff
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rIt’s not enough to just load the team with people who have influence. They should also be well liked. “The people on the team should have a deep enough reservoir of goodwill that their employees are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt,” says Wynn. “Changes, even successful ones, are rarely accomplished without periods of pain and confusion, and during these periods even the most devoted employees tend to blame their managers. If the relationship between management and the staff is strong enough, they can survive the blame that almost invariably accompanies change.”
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rWhich takes us back to point one and the fact that you don’t want to bring in a team of outsiders, galloping in on white horses to tell you how you’ve been doing it all wrong. “If the change team doesn’t have strong existing relationships with the employees, they’ll create automatic resistance,” says Wynn. “Change is an emotional process. You need a team who can not only explain the similarities between the old way and the new and who can explain the benefits of the change, but also people who will reassure the employees that even though the system may be changing, they’re still valuable.”
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rSo…if you follow all these steps will your sales staff love change? Probably not. Wynn laughingly recounts the story of how his 77-year-old father learned to use email. His first message to his son consisted of two words: “Damn it.” And just like Wynn’s father, your employees will likely experience some frustration as the new policies and procedures kick in. But if you lead the change well, then, damn it, they’ll eventually follow.

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For more information, visit www.wynnsolutions.com. •