Six Steps to Winning Hearts and Minds for Change

For weeks the project manager had been fine-tuning his new work processes. He was tasked to simplify and speed up order processing at his company. One detail in his plans had upset four colleagues in the admin department. The following change had sparked resistance: Up to now admin colleagues had examined contract documents which had been sent by customers and in the case of inconsistencies colleagues from the sales department would contact the customer and clarify the issue. This is how it was always done. In future admin was asked to contact their counterparts in the customer’s company directly. “Our old procedures made us successful”, complained the four contract specialists. “Why should we too now deal with the customer? “

This is not an isolated case. Staff often resist new processes and procedures with astounding tenacity. The habitual way of doing things is too strongly ingrained and even slight changes provoke angry reactions. “Everything always worked perfectly,” staff will say, or: “All these new processes are not aligned to the nature of our work”, or “Another weird decision from top management.” Experts know that all these statements are at-tempts to hide what is really bothering employees. They want to hide feelings, often feelings of fear, defiance and anger. Neurologists discovered that work routines leave traces in our brains. When we repeat and practice the same task, we build connections among nerve cell which become expanded into data highways. To change these patterns

- in other words to re-route the highways – triggers discomfort and it is exhausting work.

“That is why employees tend to fall back into old habits which then undermine change efforts”, explains Hansjörg Zahradnik, senior consultant at next level consulting. Project managers who introduce new processes need to be aware of these difficulties. Enticing colleagues with facts alone in order to engage them with change is not sufficient. Professional change specialists use the following six strategies in order to win over the minds as well as the hearts of their colleagues:

1. Give Reasons And Explain the Objectives:

“Why changes in our department? And why now?” Employees want to understand the reasons for new procedures. They want to know if they can expect minor changes or if they need to prepare for major adjustments and restructuring. This is why the project manager needs to know the answers to these questions and he needs to immerse himself into the thinking and reasoning behind his assignment. Experienced project managers will clarify with executive management which objectives are to be met through the changes, which circumstances necessitated these changes and which strategic advantages for the company’s future are to be gained by these changes.

2. Involve Affected Employees

Nowadays it is no longer possible to sneak in changes behind the staff’s back. That is why project managers like to get affected employees – or stakeholders – on board as soon as possible. “It is important to form allies among stakeholders and to firmly engage them with the project”, says Hansjörg Zahnradnik, “These allies can sway opinions in the company in favour of the project – especially if these allies are socially well connected.” In winning support experienced project managers like to follow the guideline offered by the ”ADKAR” principle: Are stakeholders aware of the change project and its implications (Awareness)? If not they need to be informed by the project manager. How much do they welcome these changes (Desire)? How can colleagues be won over who are indifferent towards the project or even reject it? The next question then is: What additional knowledge (Knowledge) and abilities (Abilities) will colleagues need to develop in order to function within the changed framework? And the last question is: What can the project manager do in order to ensure that new procedures become entrenched and sustainable after the project closes down (Reinforcement)?

3. Don’t Plan Details too Early in the Process

Project managers often like to specify early on who does what and at which time. But be careful! When changing work processes planning such details early on can counteract the in-tended effect: It creates chaos instead of order. The difficulty lies in assessing opinions and feelings of stakeholders towards the change project in advance. “It is advisable to remain flexible with these type of projects and to frequently revisit plans”, explains Hansjörg Zahradnik. “The stance taken by employees and resulting reactions are impossible to gauge at the outset.”

4. Take Emotional Needs Into Account when Planning

Experienced project managers take feelings seriously and take them into consideration while planning. For example having to let go of habitual ways of working may trigger grief. That is why skilled project managers speak with appreciation of the old ways and emphasise the successes they made possible. They even consciously incorporate parts of old process into the “new world”. This helps to accept the new and say good bye to the old.

5. Prepare Management

Project managers should take care to not prepare only staff for change processes but also their management. „Managers must be able to bear up to the feelings triggered in their subordinates”, explains Hansjörg Zahradnik, “They cannot duck when there is bad news to be delivered.” And most of all they cannot condemn their employees when they express resistance. “Most employees actually welcome change – as long as they do not have to fear chaos for themselves”, says the expert.

6. Win Support through Quick Wins

Quick wins early on in change processes can give the project a positive reception among staff. These wins don’t need to be big. It is enough when employees perceive the project to be off to a good start. For example one or two staff members could give a short talk about the positive impact of the changes on their work day. However, these quick wins must be real and authentic. Make-believe improvements will erode your most important requirement for successful change which is your staff’s good will.

About next level consulting:

next level consulting offers consulting services for project and process management, change management as well as for the development of project- and process-oriented organisations. With more than one hundred experts next level consulting is working for companies in diverse sectors, mainly from the IT and telecommunication industry, machinery and plant engineering, industry as well as pharmaceuticals, mobility and logistics, banks and insurance companies. In addition the business which was founded in Vienna in 2000 is consults in the health sector, in public administrations as well as NGOs. Next level operates branches in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Croatia and South Africa.

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Please direct queries to Claudia Brandt + 27 84 026 34 24 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.