17 Jan 2019


Few people enjoy change and many fear and resist it, so getting everyone onside to your ideas early on will be crucial. We look at how to engage people with change in a positive way.

Words: Jeremy Snape

All great leaders demand continuous improvements in the performance of their organisations and this is often best achieved by making gradual or small changes that help them to develop faster, smarter and better. Change of this kind allows for the people involved to adapt and grow accustomed to the new way of doing things.


The problem, of course, is that few people relish change, however vital it might be. We fear it and may need some coaxing to move into the unknown and unfamiliar, to go out of our comfort zones, put in more effort and take on new responsibilities.

Coming in as a new leader – a major change in itself – you’ll need to tread carefully, because being able to implement changes quickly can’t be achieved through brute strength or by forcing people into compliance. Engaging early on with individuals and communicating your plans openly, clearly and collaboratively will be critical if you want your plans to get off the ground. You will need to win their buy in, not only on what you want to do, but also why and how you want to do it.

To convince people that the sometimes painful process of change will be worth it you’ll need to use push motivators – the ‘sticks’, such as the desire to avoid an impending setback, loss or humiliation – and pull motivators or ‘carrots’. Both can help people want to jump forward into change, but the pull factors may require more effort on your part. What inspirational stories can you give to your team to show what life might be like on higher ground? You will need to be passionate and inspiring and the picture you paint should be aspirational without being unrealistic.

Once people start to embrace your new ideas and you notice small improvements in their behaviour or performance you can bring this to their attention, making sure you praise any progress. This will help everyone in the team see where your changes and their hard work are taking them and enable them to take more responsibility for the change process going forward. At this point you can also challenge and push people even further.


When implementing change, it’s important to remember that it’s not just practices and systems that need to transform, it’s also people’s thinking. Some individuals, when faced with something new or unfamiliar, will cast themselves as victims, while others gain energy from the process. The latter have what we call a ‘winning mindset’, an intrinsic desire to be better or do better next time, which drives them to look for ways to change daily. They take ownership of that change and overcome the fear of failure by knowing what they will achieve once they have taken it on board.

These people have a robust bank account of confidence and self-esteem to draw from in times of uncertainty and change and this gives them the courage to step forward into change. They don’t expect perfection when they take this first step, they expect to fight, to fail and to form new ways of working, which eventually strengthens and reinforces their ability to recover. It is your job as a leader to help your team members adopt a winning mindset and embrace change rather than fearing it.

The process for change must be transparent and clearly set out, so that people can see what is up ahead and why. They also need to see that it is being done fairly if they are to stick with it to the end. That’s essential, because when people start jumping ship it can seriously destabilise the process and the organisation.

Communication and engagement are key here and people respect leaders who are prepared to take feedback face-to-face, to listen and adjust. While you don’t have to chop and change your plans at everyone’s request, by uniting the people who are most affected by the changes it can provide useful insight into how things could be done better.

Pushing through change is unlikely to make you popular, but try to stay true to your goals and tough enough so as not to yield at the first sign of resistance. Think about whether you want to be remembered as an agent of change or as someone who merely continued the status quo.