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Rodger Dean Duncan. Credit: Duncan Worldwide
Business Insight: To effect change, listen, don’t overpower

First Published Sep 14 2012 07:42 am • Last Updated Dec 25 2012 11:32 pm

Rodger Dean Duncan, executive coach and author of "Change-friendly Leadership: How to Transform Good Intentions into Great Performance," says employers can rent a worker’s back and hands, but they must earn the head and heart.

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What’s the key to navigating change successfully?

As with most things in life, it’s about behaviors and relationships not titles or stature. The "Change-Friendly" framework is founded on what I call the Power of the Four Ts: Think-Friendly, Talk-Friendly, Trust-Friendly and Team-Friendly. People who successfully navigate change tend to ask a lot of smart questions because they’re eager to explore and discover. They are good with dialogue and they listen to learn and understand rather than to rebut and overpower. They are good at earning trust and extending trust. And they work with others in ways that foster genuine collaboration and engage people’s heads, hearts and hopes.

How can a leader make a compelling case for change?

Change is not what troubles most people. What gives them the most heartburn is the transition from the present to the future. Change is situational — the new team roles, the new manager, the new procedure, the new way of operating. Transition is the psychological rite of passage through which people come to terms with the new situation. Everyone listens to the same internal station, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). You’ll get little traction by merely telling people what to do. That feels like force. But you can make significant headway when you understand and appeal to people’s agendas. That feels like influence. When you ask people to go from where they are to someplace else, your task is to create a vision they can understand and will be willing to embrace. Defining the future with absolute, irrevocable certainty is rarely possible. But you should try to paint a picture of it with as much clarity as practical. Then show people what’s in it for them.

What goes into building a coalition?

No matter how brilliant your ideas may be, no matter how compelling your case for action, no matter how much personal credibility you believe you have, your change will not succeed without the engaged and collaborative involvement of others. Build a coalition by engaging your entire cast of characters. Champions are people who favor the change but lack power to sanction it. Agents are people who plan and execute the change. Sponsors are the people who authorize, legitimize and demonstrate ownership for the change. You’ll need both Authorizing Sponsors (to approve budgets, get things on meeting agendas, etc.) and Reinforcing Sponsors (to promote the change at the "local" level). Targets are people whose knowledge, assumptions, attitudes, emotions and behaviors must be altered for the change to be sustainable. Many change efforts fail because of the organizational "black hole." Bureaucracy can totally smother a change effort. That’s where strong reinforcing sponsorship can help.

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Other tips in becoming a change-friendly leader?

Create an environment where it’s safe to talk openly about anything. Encourage people to name and tame the elephants in the room ("undiscussables"). Good dialogue skills such as listening with empathy and inquiring to discover can help create an atmosphere of acceptance so people can deal openly with their concerns. Be open, totally honest and authentic in everything you do.

— Dawn House

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