4 Tips for Leading Change

We asked Jerald Jellison, Ph.D to share some tips for leaders who are managing large-scale change — such as a convention center transitioning from one management organization to another.

Keynote speaker Jerry Jellison is a professor emeritus of social psychology at the University of Southern California and a psychologist specializing in workplace psychology, human motivation, and personal change. 

1. Acknowledge human emotion

“You can look at it as a very rational process when you’re the one doing the merger or replacing somebody else. And while there’ll be a certain percentage of people who are enthusiastic and ready to go, there’ll be another small percentage — usually 10 to 20 percent — who really will be overtly resistant. And then the vast majority of people take some kind of wait-and-see approach. But for everyone, there’s a lot of uncertainty and that’s what drives the emotion, and the dominant emotion is anxiety and fear. Be aware of that emotionality and just realize that it’s perfectly normal for people to feel that way.”

2. Don’t try too hard

“Don’t spend too much time trying to explain what you’re doing and how wonderful it’s going to be to people. I’m not saying don’t explain; you need to do that and you need to lay out the new plan and your goals and describe your cultural values and all those kinds of things. But I find that leaders think they can convince other people to buy into the new way of doing things, and what I find is if you don’t get people convinced after three or four times of talking to them, you’re really not going to get them convinced by persuading.”

3. Focus on a few key goals

“When you’re doing that communicating and persuading, paint the picture of where you’re going, but stop talking about [what it will be like] a year from now. [Your employees] are focused on the present; you’re focused on the future. Bring it back and focus in on one or two major changes — the ones that you’re going to emphasize them doing. It’s one of those cases where, while you want to do everything at once, that’s what will overwhelm people.”

4. Stay positive about your predecessors

“Don’t derogate the past. Say, ‘Boy, I’m impressed with what you guys have done. I know where you started, what a challenge that was, etc., etc.’ And then I’d recommend identifying with people. Say, ‘Why are we in business? We’re in business because we think we can do it better. We think we can serve our customers better.’ Give people acknowledgement of the good things they’ve done in the past, because that’s their perspective.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.