C-Suite Lifestyle

How to lead change so that people feel it’s being done with them, not to them

Picture the following scenario. You and your leadership team have seen the need for a change in your organisation. You create a compelling presentation and accompanying materials to engage your people. However, for some reason your people don’t buy in, and you’re left wondering, “Why won’t they just get on the bus?”

However, using a process call Appreciative Inquiry, you can set your change initiative up for success by following the following five steps to empower your people to build the bus.

Step One: DEFINE in your own mind what the change is and why it needs to happen now. 

Let’s say the change you want to make is to improve your consumer experience because you’ve noticed an increase in complaints from customers, and this happened to be around the same time you finished a book that explored the expectations consumers now have of their trusted brands. And you have a staff meeting scheduled for Monday to talk about it.

Step Two: DISCOVER when your team or organisation is at its best with regards to this.

Instead of stating that customer satisfaction ratings aren’t where you want them to be, what you might say is this, “So, I’ve just finished this interesting book, and it’s got me thinking about our consumers and how they experience our brand. The book had so many ideas and approaches that I know we’re already doing, and that’s what I want to hear about. I want you to go and find me examples of when we are at our best. Why do our most loyal consumers keep coming back? What is it about our work that delights them?”

By doing this you set the foundation of strength that you’re going to build the change on. It validates the team you have, and ensures you start from a position of positivity.

You want to hear from as many stakeholders as possible and organisations spend a significant time on this step. Spend as long as you need.

Step Three: DREAM about what could be

Once you have examples of when your organisation is at its best, it’s time to enhance it. You could say something like this, “Look at all this amazing work already doing, but let’s imagine we have 3 wishes that if granted would fundamentally enhance the consumer experience, what would they be?”

This can take time to craft and prioritise the most useful ones, but examples from work I’ve facilitated include:

  • No consumer ever ends a call without a resolution to their issue.
  • Customer Service personnel have autonomy to make decisions on the spot to resolve a consumer issue.
  • Consumers walk out of our store feeling better than when they walked in.

Step Four: DESIGN a way to address what’s stopping us from already doing these things

For each of the wish statements that have been prioritised, you now explore the reasons they don’t currently happen.

In the case of, Customer Service Personnel have autonomy to make decisions on the spot to resolve a consumer issue, this would have all manner of financial, hierarchical and knowledge-based factors which mean it is currently not the norm for Customer Service Personal to operate in this manner.

However, if it truly is a wish worth working for, we need to ask our people which of these factors can they, or the leadership influence in order for it to happen.

By the end of Step Four, what you have is this.

Your people have shared with you how they wish the organisation could be better with respect to the issue that’s been keeping you up at night. Furthermore, they’ve identified the barriers preventing this from being the reality and those they’ve said they can influence.

So, all that’s left now is for you to ask them, “So what should we do about this?”

Step Five: DELIVER

The worst-case scenario here is that they say they don’t know what to do. At which point you can share with them some of your thoughts, or the ideas posed in the book you were reading. They are now in a position where they want to hear this.

However, the more likely and better scenario is that they come up with their own solutions which are context specific to your organisation, and in many cases are similar to – but better than – those suggested in the book.

This approach gives your people a real sense of ownership of the change, and rather than trying to convince them to buy into your vision – to get on your bus – you’ve empowered them to communicate their vision and build their bus in front of you. And it’s a pretty good looking one.


Written by Dan Haesler.

Dan Haesler
Dan Haesler, author of The Act of Leadership (Wiley, $29.95), is a high-performance coach whose clients include elite athletes and Olympians, as well as corporate and educational leaders. As a sought-after speaker, he regularly presents alongside industry leaders, Olympians, the occasional Oscar winner and even His Holiness the Dalai Lama on topics of leadership, mindset, motivation and peak performance.


Dan Haesler is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.