Five Ways to Foster Commitment During Organizational Change

foster commitment during organizational change

You’ve already met for countless hours with consultants, your leadership teams, and analysts to plan a change for your organization. You have a well thought-out direction and plenty of steps to get there.

You’re ready…

Chomping at the bit…

…Now what?

You’ve worked hard to map out the path ahead. But to move towards that new direction, you need commitment from the rest of the organization. You need people on your side, willing to change along with you. A critical mass of committed people to get the other heel-draggers to come along.

If you’re imagining a tall, rocky cliff in front of you when it comes to this part of the change, you’re not alone. Fostering commitment takes time, presence, and awareness. It may be an uphill climb, but with the right tools and mindset, you can lead the way for the rest of your team to commit and follow you up the mountain.

Leaders often take systems, like the chain of command, compensation, or the social pressures from colleagues, for granted. Rather than spending the time to foster genuine commitment, they rely on extrinsic incentives and compliance to ensure that change happens. Unfortunately, forcing commitment through compliance is often unsustainable.

While compliance may work for small process changes, it only encourages the bare minimum for organizational change. In the long run, forcing compliance can contribute to a pervasive feeling of disempowerment among employees.

There’s no doubt that changing behavior is hard for everyone. The psychological process of change can be a gauntlet. It’s up to you as a leader in your organization to help your team understand their role in the change process and help give them a sense of ownership over the outcome.

Here are 5 ways you can help foster commitment in times of organizational change:

Understand and recognize what has to be let go

In order to change, we have to let go of what was done before. Psychologists know this as a very real period of loss, anxiety, and fear. During the change process, there will be a range of reactions from people, both inwardly and (sometimes) directed at you: “So you mean what I was doing before was wrong?” “But I’m comfortable here.” “This is the way we’ve always done it.” “What am I going to lose?” “What do I need to protect?” You can imagine how this anxiety can spiral into resistance.

As a leader, rather than glossing over this fear, address it. Be frank about what might be different. Recognize those feelings of worry, and help people deal with it by listening rather than rushing to convince them of the positive outcomes that will result from a change. People need to be heard in order to feel supported during this time.

Tap into your authentic self

Be honest with yourself and your team about the level of discomfort there may be with the change. Will you be struggling to adopt some of these things? An authentic display of self-awareness and vulnerability does a lot to develop trust between you and your employees: “I know my default setting is to keep information to myself, especially given how hierarchical we’ve been in the past. But I’m actively working on getting information out to more people as we transition. It feels unnatural to me, but I’m convinced this will be good for us in the long-term.”

You can also recall your own experiences with change to empathize with your organization. Do the following reflection: When was the last time you were asked to do something dramatically different? What was your initial reaction to that request? How did you feel? What did you do? Did you change? Why? Pay attention to what it was like for you to change, and connect with people on this level.

Get to know your community

Development workers, social workers, and community organizers are in the business of asking people to make big changes. A major part of their work is to get to know the community, simply by walking around and spending time with people. Take a page from their book: get out from behind your desk and into the organization and actually talk to people.

During a change, your presence as a leader is critical. Listen. Ask good questions. Allow members of your organization to discuss what they see and how they see it. Take the time to respond to those fears and worries about the coming changes.

There is nothing worse for commitment than an absent leader. Feeling seen and heard can lessen people’s level of emotional vulnerability during change. Get out there and be your honest self.

Get the right people on board

Consider doing a network mapping exercise to understand who in your organization will be most important to get committed early. Who has a strong relationship with people? Who knows how to develop trust with their subordinates? If one person commits, will there be ten others who follow them?

As people in your organization enter into the change-gauntlet, they will be looking to the top for confirmation. Is your leadership team walking the talk? Are they committed in a way that role-models behavior to the rest of your employees? The same questions mentioned above will be crucial to have with your top team.

Rinse and repeat

Gaining commitment is an iterative process and different people will experience anxiety at different times. As your plan gets underway, new questions will arise. Your leadership team may feel exhausted.

What’s important to remember is that re-visiting commitment is equally as important as re-hashing the plan and tracking your progress. The 5 tips above will help you get there.