Three years ago, my mother put her dream house on the market and moved 11 hours away to live near my sister and the grandchildren. When I visited her two years ago, she was still camping out in her new house and it seemed like she was camping out in her new life. She was still traveling back and forth to her house in the woods, trying to get it to sell.
When I asked her why she thought it hadn’t sold, she said that a realtor friend of hers had told her that the way to sell your house was to stand in your front yard, open your arms to the heavens and say out loud, “God, please send me someone who will love this house as much as I have.” I asked her if she had done that and she hesitated and then answered, “Well, no.”
This resonated with me. I believe deeply that, if you want change to come into your life, you have to invite it into your life. (Yes, it sometimes comes in without invitation, but that’s another story. I’m talking here about change that you want to bring into your life.)
I’ve seen it so many times – a young man who seems happy enough gets engaged, then they buy a new house, and suddenly he gets promoted. These things follow one another – when you get engaged, you probably need a new space that the two of you can make a home together. Once you have a mortgage, you start thinking how nice it would be to have a little more money (funny how a mortgage does that) and you find yourself looking at new jobs.
But it’s true on a smaller, less-connected level, too. Last Tuesday I was complaining to a friend after yoga that I felt stuck. I left her, still feeling stuck, for my morning walk. I had just planned to do my usual route but, when I got to 59th Street, I found myself reflecting on how long I had wanted to walk across the bridge. I located the pedestrian on-ramp and, before I knew it, I was looking down on the Roosevelt Island tram. I found my way off the other side in Queens, figured out how to get to Williamsburg, and took the ferry home. When I got home, I went online and there was something wonderful – and totally disconnected from my journey across the bridge – waiting in my emailbox. Would I have found that email if I hadn’t invited change into my life by taking the bridge untraveled? Maybe. Would it have seemed as wonderful? Maybe not. Sometimes life gives you what you need when you need it – and that isn’t always when you are looking for it.
This is true when you’re implementing things at work, as well. If you want the people who have to adopt a change to embrace it quickly, you need to find a way for them to ask for it to come into their lives.
That partially starts with strategy – are you focusing on the most important aspects of the change? Or are you trying to do everything all at once? Who is going to want to do everything all at once? Have you considered the other things that are happening to them – changes from other areas of the business, focus on customers? Have you considered all areas of the system that you’re trying to change? Upgrades that occur to the end-user interface can reveal infrastructure that can’t support the additional traffic that occurs – who asks for change to come into their lives if that’s going to be the result?
And are you fully committed to the change? How often do senior executives say that they want their teams to work together on something, but continue the behavior that encourages competition over cooperation? I have nothing against competition – but if you’re rewarding competitive behaviors, your team will compete not cooperate.
Encouraging adoption also starts with communication. How are you marketing the change internally? Can you find a way to make the people who have to embrace it want it? Think of it like a wedding invitation – does your invitation make your guests think what fun it will be to come and dance at your wedding? Or does it cause people to dread dressing up in clothes they rarely wear (do they even fit any more?) just to get snubbed by people they don’t know? Even worse, did you wait to send the invitation at the last minute?
When Doonesbury’s Joanie and Rick got married, their invitation was a comedy of errors: a beautifully engraved last-minute invitation, followed by a series of errata slips filling in the groom’s name, the date of the wedding, then correcting “Bick” to “Rick.” It’s funny because it’s true: so many internal change communications make these same mistakes, what I call the dribbling basketball of communications: nothing until the last minute, then one HUGE communication that falls from above like a ton of bricks, followed by a dribble of smaller communications “clarifying” the original communication, adding information, answering questions that the author should have anticipated. This style leaves the people who are supposed to adopt the change frozen from action, waiting (and dreading) the next update. It’s an adoption-killer.
Inviting change into your life is, of course, only the first step. But it’s an important step.
When I visited mom again last summer, she had just sold her house and was planning to move her furniture to her new home. I asked if she had taken the realtor’s advice and this time she said, with peace, that she had.
And that inspired me to invite change into my own life.
What do you do to invite change into your life.