5 helpful tips for inspiring colleagues to embrace change

Paul Boag

We need colleagues to change. Whether creating a better experience or encouraging digital thinking. We need them to do things in a different way. But, change is hard and people are often reluctant.

Neither digital or user experience design exists in isolation. We cannot achieve our goals without collaborating and working with others. That means winning them over. This is something I have been thinking about a lot. Thinking about when writing User Experience Revolution and creating my culture cards. How do you get people to change?

There is no easy or single answer. But as I worked on the culture cards I noticed reoccurring themes. General principles that seemed to apply in most circumstances. These were:

  • Always keep colleagues informed.
  • Inspire them about the potential.
  • Educate them about the value of change.
  • Involve them in creating change.
  • Change the metrics to change the people.

Let’s dig into these a little deeper.

1. Always keep colleagues informed

A lack of information can cause fear and that breeds resentment. Make sure colleagues understand what is going on.

Change is scary. People feel out of control and out of their depth. It is easier to do what they have always done. That is familiar and safe.

If we want people to do things in a different way we need to make that feel safe and familiar. That means reassuring them and keeping them informed. When people know exactly what is going on they feel more in control.

Look for every opportunity to be as transparent and open as possible about what you are changing and why. Communicate often through newsletters, blog posts and updates. But where possible meet with people to let them know what is going on.

Most of all be sure to keep communicating even when not much is happening. It is easy to think there is no point talking to people when you have nothing to say. But people can mistake your silence for secrecy. They will misunderstand it and view it in a negative way. Always keep communicating.

2. Inspire them about the potential

People are more likely to embrace change if they can see the benefits it will bring and are excited by the possibilities.

Of course it is not enough to communicate if you want people to change. You also have to inspire them. They have to believe that the change is worth it. In particular there are two things to be aware of.

First, you need to show the benefits to them as individuals. It is not enough to talk about the benefits to users or even to the company. People are selfish. You need to show them how the change you are proposing will make their lives better. How it will help meet their targets, improve their job or generally benefit them.

Second, you need to excite them about the change. Logic alone isn’t going to cut it. Don’t produce some dull document telling people about change, show them instead. Build a prototype, something they can play with. Something that is free from constraints and you have designed to inspire. Something that give them a sense of what the future could be if only they got on board.

3. Educate them about the value of change

If you want colleagues to behave differently you must take the time to educate them as to why this is necessary. You cannot expect people to change just because you tell them to.

Not that you can only appeal to the emotions. We have a role as educators too. We need to explain why change is necessary and why our approach is the best way. We need to introduce them to design thinking, the importance of UX and how digital has changed the world.

These things may seem obvious to us, but it is not to others. We need to take the time to educate our colleagues and prove the importance of these ideas.

In fact, as I have said before, education is the most important role we can fulfil. Right now companies need educators more than implementors.

4. Involve them in creating change

We don’t have all the answers and so we need to collaborate with others over change. This also gives people a sense of ownership over the change you are proposing.

But there is a danger in all this. A danger that we come across as arrogant. That we have all the answers. Let me be clear, we do not. We have one perspective and we need the perspective of others. That is why it is so important to include others in deciding on change.

But there is another reason as well. Imposing change is hard. Forcing people to embrace it is challenging. But if we include them in deciding on the need to change they are much more likely to support it.

By involving people they feel a sense of ownership. This gives a sense of control too. All this will make them much more accepting.

5. Change the metrics to change the people

The way people are assessed and incentivised impacts whether they are willing to adopt new approaches. Make sure the right metrics are being measured.

Unfortunately all this hard work is for nothing if the system is against us. People are often more up for change than you think. But company culture can hold them back. A culture shaped by incentives and assessment criteria.

For example if a company rewards sales staff on the number of sales leads they bring in, this will be their focus. If management assess a member of I.T. on security they will be risk adverse.

To some extent we can position the change as being positive for these metrics. But sooner or later the company will need to reconsider whether it is using the right metrics.

Change is our business

Change is our business. Whether you care about improving the user's experience or encouraging digital adoption. It falls to us to challenge the status quo. It falls to us to encourage people to think in a different way. If we cannot do that our efforts will have only a limited impact. We will be caught between impossible constraints unable to do our job.

To do that we need to understand our colleagues. To put as much effort into helping them see the need to change as we put into motivating users into action. We need to stop seeing them as a barrier, but as a group we need to prove ourselves too.

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