Trying to Get People in Your Organization to Change? Focus on These Two Things.

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

Just like in our personal lives, we are constantly trying (and failing) to get people to change at work. We manage up, sideways, and any which way we can, yet we often get nowhere. Should this really surprise us, though? I have a hard enough time getting myself and my family to change –  why would it be any different when asking dozens, hundreds, thousands, or more to do the same? In working with organizations both large and small, I’ve seen very few companies find success in getting people to change. In the successful cases, however, I noticed two common themes. Take them, run with them, and help yourself and others begin to change.

NOTE: Head on over here If you’re looking help implementing a more formal Change Management process. This post is more along the lines of organizational and cultural change.

Don’t overcomplicate the matter.

When we ask people to change, we sometimes overwhelm them by overcomplicating the matter. Take the analogy of getting in shape: At some point, something we see in the mirror finally makes us say, “Enough is enough, self! I’m going to change.” You then proceed, if you’re anything like me, to attempt fixing everything at once. “I have to work out 100 times a week, only eat farm fresh fruits and vegetables, and give up caffeine!” Then roughly five minutes into the day you’re exhausted and kicking yourself. Don’t do this. Instead, pick one thing you will either start doing or stop doing. Keep it simple. If you can’t explain it in a short sentence, you’re making it too complicated.

Keith Ferrazzi (of whom I’m a not-small fan) has a piece in the Harvard Business Review that I absolutely love about making small changes for a big impact. In the piece, titled Managing Change, One Day at a Time, he uses himself as an example by making a simple change to his daily routine: He stopped putting cream and sugar in his coffee each morning. That one seemingly small change in behavior caused him to make better decisions around his diet the remainder of the day. This exact same idea holds true at work.

Pick a simple change you would like people in your organization to adopt. Think of it as an easy lever that can move something really large. Maybe for your organization it’s the fact that folks don’t share their knowledge. In that case, a simple message like this can do the trick: “Hey people, if you find you’re doing things more than once, take a minute, write it down (or even better, record a quick video – tools like Camtasia rule for stuff like this), and get some of that knowledge out of your head. That way, you won’t have to keep answering the same questions, and you’ll contribute to the knowledge of the organization.” You can further simplify the message to something like, “Goal: Create one piece of knowledge each week.” Do make sure to communicate the why this is super important for yourselves and others in your message. Also, don’t forget to reward people like crazy when they do what you ask of them. Everyone loves an “‘Atta human!” every once and again.

Deliver your message 1,000 times. Then 400 more times.

So, you’ve got the one simple and amazing thing you want people to do? Great! Now, go forth and communicate it constantly and creatively. After you’ve done that, communicate it in 50 more creative, unexpected ways. Depending on your company culture, something like jumping out from behind potted plants with your message may or may not be appropriate. That particular approach has worked like a charm at BEYOND20, by the way. We’re a weird bunch.

Each of us is bombarded with a monsoon of emails and ads from sun-up to sundown every day. This monsoon – comprised of things like meetings, deadlines, cat videos, etc. – is now competition for your Simple And Amazing Thing You’re Now Doing, or SAATYND (catchy, no?). You’ve gotta get ahead of the noise and present your idea in a memorable, attention-grabbing, fun way.

Most organizations aren’t great at this. Something I encounter far too often when conducting on-site training or strategic planning, for example, is the following conversation:

Me: So, is your organization doing X?
90% of people in the room: Nope.
10% of people in the room: Tell me you’re kidding. How do you not know we do that? We’ve been doing it for the past year.

Leaders who observe interactions like these are always shocked by how few people in their organization don’t have a clue about some SAATYNDs. Usually, this gap in knowledge forms when the SAATYND was communicated once, lost to the deluge of other very important things folks have to get done. This scenario can also play out when word of the SAATYND isn’t consistently spread to new employees as they come on board. We tend to make the assumption that everyone knows the SAATYND, but the harsh reality is that they do not. Either way, the best thing you can do is assume someone, somewhere in your company doesn’t know about the SAATYND and take it upon yourself to ensure they get the message. Make it simple, make it consistent, and make it stand out.

Remember, no one will do the SAATYND if they don’t know the SAATYND exists. So, like they teach in Sunday school, don’t hide your light under a bush (oh, no!). Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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Originally published December 12 2016, updated January 01 2019