Throughout my career where I’ve worked either in-house or at client sites, I’ve been in the habit of spending time away from my desk talking to people and making friends. As an independent working from home I do the same thing, on Zoom, on social media or on the phone (although you can’t beat a good chat over a coffee). I’ve always recommended this to comms and change colleagues as one of the most important things to do and unwittingly, I found that this became even more important as I worked in change. So, why does getting to know people make such a difference in change?
It’s about people – organisations are made up of people. In change, project teams spend time creating and managing stakeholder maps and plans, but to get the three-dimensional view beyond a spreadsheet, you need to spend time with the people in those groups. Get invited to meetings and team events. Shadow people – understand what they do day-to-day and what their world is really like. I’ve been out with cleaning teams, worked on help desks and shadowed engineers on jobs. Seek out different opinions to yours and find out what makes people tick. Learning about their world helps you understand them better, find out what’s important to them, speak their language and engage with them. And be prepared to share information about the change and what’s coming with them, so it becomes more of a conversation.
It sounds basic, but talking to people as human beings, learning about their perspectives and building in their views, matters. Otherwise, you are operating in an echo chamber of your and the project team’s views.
It’s about learning - questions like these might help you…
What do people want to know – and not.
Why do they want to know it? (the What’s In It for Me)?
What engages – or motivates – them about the change?
What information do they like to receive – and how do they get it now?
What most definitely wouldn’t work
A word of caution - don’t just fire questions at people – this is about listening and engaging people in conversation, not an interview…
It’s about trust – trust really matters and it’s becoming increasingly important within organisations, especially in our rapidly changing world. In the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, 75% of respondents globally say that they trust their employer to do what is right (ahead of NGOs – 57%, business – 56%, government – 48% and media – 47%) and 76% of people want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for government. No pressure then. Want to build trust? In almost all organisation cultures, getting out and about and meeting people face-to-face helps. Here’s why it matters…
It’s about the brain – as Hilary Scarlett explains in ‘Neuroscience for Organisational Change’, our brains largely operate in the same way as our ancestors, when our whole purpose was survival and looking out for threats was the priority. So, our brains, even today, have more wiring to look out for uncertainty than anything else – the threat response. So, for change, project and comms, leads, spending time getting to know people formally and informally in your day-to-day world (before you start talking about change), will make your life easier. And more fun.
Remember - our brains are also wired to connect with people – we’re social animals. This goes right back to our ancestors. Being part of a group had many advantages – hunting larger animals more easily and fighting off other tribes or predators – and being a loner, didn’t. And that hasn’t changed to today.
As well as scanning today’s office savannah for the equivalent of a sabre tooth tiger, our brains are looking out for threats when they meet new people too – so unconsciously, they will be deciding if you’re a friend or enemy. Friend, easier to work with, less defensive, greater trust and more willing to talk. Enemy, much harder to work or communicate with.
So, spending time getting to know people pays dividends before you start talking about change. Remember, this will be a conversation, not a grilling, so be honest, genuine and authentic in your discussions. You are likely to be asked questions about the change too so make sure you – and the rest of the team – are ready, and willing, to answer.
Getting to know people when you’re working in a ‘business as usual’ world, will help you hugely when you go through change. Building trust, confidence and relationships with people will always make projects easier – and more fun.
I support organisations and teams going through change, helping to make the people side of change work better. I help with tools such as communication, coaching and wellbeing approaches to make sure that the people side of change is not an afterthought. I’d love to talk if you want to put your people front and centre.