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How to Get Your Employees to Embrace Change

12/15/2011 03:37 pm ET | Updated Feb 14, 2012

Today an organization's management either recognizes the need to change, or it will watch helplessly as market share and profitability slowly (and in some cases, quickly) disappears.

Unfortunately, although more and more managements are beginning to understand the need to challenge what used to work in the light of today's reality, most non-management employees don't see the handwriting on the wall and still resist change when it affects their jobs. Most of the time, training classes don't seem to help very much.

About 25 years ago I had the opportunity to consult for seven of the "Baby Bells" that split off from AT&T after that company was split into over 20 separate organizations. Those companies were facing a totally different, highly competitive environment and needed to make drastic changes in order to survive. But because they were staffed with employees who had operated successfully for 20, 30, and even 40 years, management was having a difficult time getting their workers to accept the needed change.

My assignment was very specific: Get thousands of employees on all levels, including many managers, to not only accept change, but to actively embrace change and then figure out the best ways to deal with it.

When I entered the training rooms I saw blank faces, crossed arms and legs, and dead silence. One group of employees, the AT&T Service Technicians, had already undergone hours of training designed to increase customer service -- trainings they derisively called "Charm School." Their attitude was: "We have work to do. What the hell are we doing in another training?"

I developed a simple process that transformed the way most of the 10,000 or so workers who attended my workshops saw their jobs. Let me describe the process to you because it is just as applicable to your company and its employees today as it was to the "Baby Bells" over 25 years ago.

Here are the steps of the Lefkoe Belief Process -- Changed Environment®. This is a variation of the Lefkoe Belief Process® designed specifically to be used in organizations to quickly and permanently eliminate cultural and job beliefs when the environment has changed. I'll present each of the seven steps and then explain how I used them with Bell employees. Then you should be able to ask the same seven questions of your own employees so that they, too, welcome change.

Step 1. What are you doing?

I asked each group of employees what they were doing daily. Service technicians went to each customer's site to install, repair or maintain equipment. People in the Central Office handled the equipment that connected to each individual line. Etc.

Step 2. What do you believe that explains what you are doing, that causes your behavior?

I then asked each group of employees what they believed about their jobs that had them do what they did. Service Technicians said that their job was to make sure the customer's equipment was in good working condition and connected to the Central Office. Employees in the Central Office said their job was to make sure all the connections worked. Etc.

Step 3. What happened, what were the earliest experiences you had, that led to the belief being formed?

Here, each group of employees described the training they had that led to their belief about their jobs. They told me about their earliest experiences, which consisted of being told by someone what they needed to do every day and why that activity was required for the company to be successful.

Step 4. Can you see that your belief about your job made sense given the environment at the time it was formed and that if you had a different environment you probably would have formed a different belief?

This is the first crucial step in eliminating the belief because here they realized that what they were told to do was what was wanted and needed at the time. Service techs made sure each customer's equipment was in good working condition and connected to the Central Office. Workers in the Central Office did what was needed to keep the lines connected. Etc. Employees realized that what they needed to do in their job was strictly a function of the environment at the time -- what customers wanted, regulation, competition (or the lack thereof), and what it took to deliver the "Universal Service" that was the mission of the Bell System. They also recognized that if any of these elements had been significantly different, their job would have been different. So they realized that what they do is a function of their belief about their job, and their belief is a function of the environment in which that belief was formed. And finally, if there had been a different environment, they would have formed a different belief about their job, and would be acting very differently today.

Step 5. Describe today's environment.

Is it the same as the environment when the belief originally was formed? Here I described the new environment, in which customers had a choice for the first time, when competition really existed for the first time, the new regulations, the new mission that emphasized customer satisfaction, etc. It was clear that the environment had changed drastically from the time when their beliefs about their jobs had originally been formed.

Step 6. If the environment is the same, your belief about your job and the behavior it produces probably is appropriate today. If it is not, what belief is appropriate for today's environment?

Once they realized that the environment had changed, they were able to create a new belief about their job, based on what was now needed. For example, instead of being focused on the technical part of their job, Service Technicians started to focus on the customer satisfaction part of their job and gave themselves a new job description: Customer Satisfiers. In fact, as "Service Technicians," talking to and taking care of customers actually got in the way of them doing their "job."

Step 7. Given your new belief, what behavior would naturally manifest? After Service Technicians changed their belief about their job, when they went to customers' sites their focus was on making sure customers were totally satisfied, so that dealing with equipment was not the focus of their job, but only one way to insure customer satisfaction.

(Steps of the Lefkoe Belief Process -- Changed Environment®, copyright © 1985 by Morty Lefkoe)

As soon as you realize that your belief is "a truth," appropriate at a particular time and not "the truth," appropriate for all time -- that it is a function of a specific environment that no longer exists -- the belief will disappear and will not return. At which point you can create a new belief based on the current environment, which will result in behavior that is appropriate for the current environment.

By the way, most external surveys of customer satisfaction in the telephone companies that used this change process rose from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, on a scale of 0-100.

You will be surprised how easy it is get employees to accept (in fact, embrace) change once their old beliefs about their job have changed. Try using this process in your own company and share the results you achieve with all of us.

For more information about Morty Lefkoe and how his method for eliminating beliefs can improve business success, please go to http://lefkoe.com.

copyright ©2011 Morty Lefkoe

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