The first project I was assigned as a young engineer was intended to bring about a massive amount of change to an industry that didn’t particularly like change. I recall being mentored by engineers who kept their best information in a “tally book” in their back pocket. That would be the equivalent of Google docs today! The undertaking I was embarking on was going to digitize and standardize invoicing for the entire company…but first, people had to be taught how to do things the “new way”. Armed with the authority of upper management, I was prepared to bullishly get people to put away their notepads and old way of doing things, and quickly adopt this new way. Boy, was I in for a lesson (or two). I’d like to share my favorites with you here:

  1. For many, change feels like a loss – When you ask people to make large scale change like I was, you have to be prepared for them to grieve the loss of their current situation. While writing things down in a book seemed trivial to me, the comfort and control that people had grown accustomed to were in jeopardy, and just like any emotional loss, I didn’t have to fully understand it to help them through it. I need only acknowledge the depth of their feelings and go from there.
  2. You get more bees with honey… – This old adage (which goes on to compare honey to vinegar of all things) holds especially true when trying to bring about change. Finding ways to kindly get people to adapt to change is just as essential as politely asking the toddler to put their toys away. Pounding your fist on a desk may get someone to appear to agree with you, but you won’t see the results in the long run. And when adopting change, it’s not the short-term appearance that matters, it’s the sustaining of the new state that will allow you to declare victory.

I’m a quick study, so before I realized it, I found myself telling people that “it would all be OK” right in the middle of the training. Setting their minds at ease, and even just listening to their concerns, went a long way in watching them take the new steps and replace the tally books with laptops.