A mentor once said, “you manage constraints and lead towards possibilities.” Another colleague said, “you manage things and lead people.” When it comes to organizational change, these two principles also apply. Organizational change leadership deals with how one influences other people to buy in and commit to changes and/or new ideas. As one who is in a leadership position and also who has been fortunate to have observed other effective change leaders, here are some principles I’ve come to adopt when I am leading change.

1. Go with the willing first. Realize that different folks in the organization will not be at the same level of awareness and interest regarding new ideas. For folks to buy in, they must first be made aware of the proposed changes and commit to accepting or rejecting the idea. Some folks, given their disposition, personalities, and interests, will be more willing and able to accept the proposed changes. These are the folks who can provide initial positive momentum and interests that will not only advance the implementation of the proposed change but also demonstrate to others the values of the changes as well. I’ve seen it too often, and I’ve experienced this myself when leaders are discouraged with their efforts and lack of progress because they focus too much on those unwilling to adopt the changes and the criticisms levied by those folks. But, progress will be made in focusing on willing people, and positive energy/momentum will be sustained.

2. Engage influencers in the organization. Some individuals in organizations have the credibility and respect of their peers. These are folks who are not always in management positions; rather, these are folks who are liked socially, have a reputation for getting things done, and who management can count on to get things done. These are folks that can be very beneficial in getting the buy-in of others, so when leading change; they should be approached at the beginning and throughout the efforts, so they know what’s going on for them to develop an interest in the new idea, and spread the message with their peers.

3. Use the social network effect. Related to points 1 and 2 above, create/promote a social structure where folks can share ideas in social settings. I’ve learned that department meetings are forums for announcements/awareness, but I’m not going to convince folks in one session to develop an interest in the proposed changes. Realize that when folks go to lunches or go on breaks, that’s when they often have deeper conversations about what’s going on with the departments. For this reason, working with willing and organizational influencers who can advocate for change during these casual and social conversations is important.

Organizational change can be emotionally and psychologically hard on people because it impacts their identity, value systems, reputation, and livelihood. For these reasons, folks leading organizational changes cannot overlook the significance of the individual needs and interests of those involved. In the end, folks are asking this question regarding change: “what’s in it for me?”

What other methods and principles have you used to successfully lead organizational changes?