Conventional wisdom tells us that we cannot change people.
Certainly, we cannot make someone change who is unwilling to change. The results of our attempts to direct different actions, behaviors and thoughts will not be immediate, guaranteed or precisely as we envisioned. But you and I can be agents of transformation for our colleagues, employees, business partners, mentees and customers.
If your colleague, employee or business partner is contemplating a risky or difficult change, let her know that you will provide support to get her through it.
Prepare her for what’s ahead without dissuading her from starting. Understand what decisions she will face and offer insights in navigating certain issues without being controlling. Anticipate potential problems and have a game plan for dealing with crises.
Before promising support, however, make sure that: 1) she is committed to the change, and 2) you have already accomplished what she seeks to do. Sharing domain knowledge is just as crucial to her success as genuine encouragement, and she’ll need both to succeed.
Giving hands-on instruction and sharing new ideas in a thoughtful, non-threatening manner are frequently overlooked, easy ways of influencing change. Lack of skills and knowledge in a certain area is often interpreted as resistance to adopting new methods or creating a different environment. But this interpretation may be wrong.
Instead, your colleague or employee may be intimidated by implementing changes, having tried and failed in earlier attempts. Or, until now, he may have not had the time to devote to acquiring requisite skills. Help him overcome the learning curve. Start with the basics. Build on his knowledge until is able to institute changes on his own.
If you observe over-the-top inappropriate or destructive behaviors, say something. Clearly state what is questionable or unacceptable. Let her know that you are not judging but instead bringing problems to her attention, cautioning about consequences and making an effort to reverse potentially unhealthy thought patterns.
Illustrate outcomes that are likely based on her current direction. If you have been a trusted advisor and loyal mentor, she will realize that such wrong actions will lead to the very outcomes she has been trying to avoid. Your guidance will inspire her to chart a different course to achieving her goals.
4. Divide and conquer
Coach your colleague to dissect and deal with barriers to success, one by one.
If problems are bundled—which they often are—extracting the most prominent obstacle seems nearly impossible. But recognizing that there are many issues wrapped in one big situation is a significant first step in instigating change.
Probe for problems and deal with whatever surfaces first. As things unravel, offer insights to help address each topic, one at a time. This process can bring about a breakthrough, which smoothes the path for overcoming other issues.
Often, what seemed to be a challenge requiring a dramatic change is a collection of problems that can be handled by applying straightforward analytical thinking.
Admitting your imperfections and failures creates the atmosphere for honest dialogue, which can lead to epiphanies and change. This approach may be counterintuitive but is highly effective for the confident person who operates in a safe, organizational culture that values transparency and growth.
If your colleague has routinely worked with those who tout successes while hiding mistakes and frustrations, she can easily develop the impression that an initiative either succeeds or fails. She may come to believe that a project is either randomly blessed or arbitrarily cursed by the universe.
But if she listens to those who are candid about struggles and triumphs, she will gain a more complete understanding of how to achieve business success. Grasping the need for revisiting and adjusting business plans or professional methods inspires the desire for meaningful change.
Challenge your colleague to move out of his comfort zone. Your purpose is not to push him into doing something he despises, but to prod him to be courageous enough to accomplish his goals.
Encourage him to take the steps needed to improve his product lines, sales leadership style, professional relationships, conversion rates. Let him know that he is fully capable of transforming his business but will need to make specific changes to reach his potential.
7. Step back
Be clear about your position on the changes you believe that your colleague needs to make. But don’t force her to change.
Instead, give her the freedom to stay the same. Given the time to test her choices, she can conclude independently that she needs to make changes in order to bring about desired results.