Knowing how to innovate and manage change will soon become a requirement in one’s job description and performance review. Being responsible to generate results is one thing; knowing how to make the results more sustainable, profitable and multifaceted is another. The new workplace requires everyone to lead and/or coordinate change in some shape or form – but very few have been formally trained to assure that it is effectively implemented. This is the opportunity that everyone must learn to embrace!
In his blog titled, Change Management vs. Change Leadership — What’s the Difference?, Forbes contributing writer John Kotter defines change management as “a set of basic tools or structures intended to keep any change effort under control.” In this same blog, Kotter defines change leadership as “the engine on the whole change process, and making it go faster, smarter, more efficiently.” While I concur with how Mr. Kotter has defined the differences – and that in theory they represent two mutually exclusive roles – they both are dependent upon one common denominator: the ability to effectively sell change.
For most, they would rather hide from change, rather than embrace it. They view change as something that will impair them rather than enable unseen opportunities. What most people fail to realize is that change is one of the most powerful professional development tools available to them. I learned about how to sell, manage and lead change early on in my career. Whether it was a merger, acquisition, reengineering and/or leading the formation of strategic alliances or new ventures – change was a common practice. Selling change impacts the entire organization, its people, brands, the entire supply chain, processes and procedures. If your organization is undergoing any type of change management or business transformation process – embrace it. Learn from the journey. Take copious notes and write your own blog on the experience. Change makes you stronger and any adversity that goes with it makes you wiser.
Without strategy, change is merely substitution not evolution
Effectively selling change demands a strategy embracing the following five essential components that serve as the foundation for successful change management and change leadership.
You must be aware enough of the business landscape to recognize that a need for change exists. This requires you to anticipate the unexpected and take proactive steps to provide solutions for a changing terrain, magnifying your vision from being traditionally “linear” to what I call “circular vision.” For example, Estee Lauder had circular vision and created a family dynasty in the cosmetics industry. She anticipated the unexpected and took action to address the changing needs of women who were demanding to sample cosmetic products before buying them. As a result, she pioneered two marketing techniques that are still popular today: the free gift and the gift with purchase.
Apple (a company that had originally been known for its computer products) also had a keen sense of awareness in selling change. Remember the Sony Walkman? Apple made it virtually extinct when they introduced the iPod. So who is the next iPod in your field or interest or industry that has the awareness (circular vision) to anticipate the unexpected?
Selling change requires impeccable timing. This means having the ability to seamlessly sell change while minimizing disruption. It requires you to not only be aware of when to make your pitch – but more importantly how to sell change knowing that regardless of what type of opportunity or innovative idea you are selling – it will create a counter-effect of resistance .
Timing is the single most important component to gaining initial “buy-in” to the change that you are selling. The right timing can build the required momentum to get your colleagues, senior management and the boardroom excited about your idea(s). You must possess extreme patience with the right amount of knowledge to determine your timing. This is difficult because you are so passionate about selling change that you believe would benefit the organization that you serve. Be equally mindful that if your timing is wrong (though well intentioned), the momentum you may have built in your career may instantly be lost. Take your path towards determining the right timing seriously.
I know this first hand, having launched several new ventures in my corporate and entrepreneurial career. For example, during one of my first ventures, my organization was one of the first to successfully implement a “control brand” strategy with liquidation and dollar store retailers. During a time when these retail outlets were building momentum by selling branded products at deep discounted prices, my concept allowed them to increase margins by shifting their procurement focus – then 100% dependent upon distressed merchandise – to now support non-distressed goods in support of their own control branded programs.
3) Competency and Know-how
Once you have become aware of the need for change and your timing was on-point, your ability to sell change now requires you to showcase your competencies and capabilities to most effectively generate the outcomes you are projecting. Don’t sell an unattainable forecast – sell an ability to sustain long-term bottom line impact that comes from the change you are selling.
Don’t ever attempt to sell change if you can’t deliver upon it. Remember that even if you are not successful in delivering the outcomes, the manner in which you are selling change is being critically evaluated. Regardless of the change you are selling, manage the opportunity as if it were your last.
Your competency and know-how will be evaluated as if you were selling a new venture to a group of investors. As such, you must be able to manage the outcomes you are selling by being politically savvy (regardless of hierarchy or rank) and you must be able to easily articulate (in a manner that everyone can understand) how you will be able to connect the dots of opportunity that were previously unseen or unrecognizable. Showcase strong competency levels by assembling a diverse team that can help you execute and that can help you sell the change all the way through to the end.
For example, as a leader in the Hispanic talent and marketing development space – my organization has consistently seen that Fortune 500 companies don’t have the required resources and infrastructure to most effectively market to and authentically develop Hispanic talent. Instead of waiting for companies to take action and create the resources, we saw this as an opportunity – through proper timing, focus and competency – to make a 5-year investment to create a solution that the Fortune 500s were missing: Hispanic Training Center.
Having the required tenacity, endurance and passion to sell change all the way through to the end is never easy and could be the ultimate breaking point to your successful change management and change leadership efforts. Selling change requires a level of desire that makes it mandatory for you to get your hands dirty throughout the selling cycle. This means that you need to be ready to face uncertainty head-on and welcome the fiercest battles from the doubters who want you to fail.
Desire is not just being willing and able to tackle any tension points through the journey of selling change – but more so an ability to accept the fact that you must continue to touch the process of selling the new opportunity as much as you lead it. Touching the process requires you to stay involved, even in menial tasks that you would rather delegate. This also requires having the desire to “play the game like you are winning it” – even when it feels like you are losing.
Selling change is difficult and it takes a special level of desire in order to translate something that may be difficult for others to see into something that is concrete enough for people to believe in and begin to hold onto. When others observe your genuine desire to breakthrough what seemed impossible, they will begin to support you as a sign of respect and gratitude. This also helps in building momentum.
5) Mental toughness
To withstand the obstacles and resistance by those affected by the change you are selling demands mental toughness. In many respects, mental toughness is a first-cousin to desire. They feed off of each other during the “change selling cycle.” For example, you may have the will and desire to sell change – but you may not be mentality tough enough to finish each task at hand.
Mental toughness is imperative when selling change because you are almost always dealing with some form of crisis along the way. Mental toughness allows you to “separate issues” and compartmentalize them in a strategic fashion that strengthens your desire (rather than weakens your spirits). In other words, it allows you to become more mindful of how to best manage the consequences of the change that you are selling.
Adversity makes or breaks you, but it primarily reveals you.
This is exactly what you experience when you sell change. It helps strengthen you and builds your character. Embrace change and it will make you a more credible, reliable and enduring leader.