Today’s guest blog post is excerpted from Change the Sandler Way by Sandler Trainer Hamish Knox. © 2016 Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
Are you considering a big change that will affect your sales team – a new compensation plan, a new working schedule, a new product line, or some other initiative? Whatever it is, don’t assume your announcement guarantees buy-in!
All humans dealing with change go through four stages of transition: denial, resistance, exploration, and commitment. The length of time salespeople spend in each stage depends on their preferred communication style and their hardwired scripts for handling adversity. Let’s look briefly at each stage.
The strength of an individual’s denial that the change is even happening relates directly to how sudden and personal that individual feels the change to be. Salespeople may remain in denial about adjustments to their compensation plans – even when it’s obvious the adjustment will affect them – because they are unable to draw a clear line between the new plan and an increase in income.
When salespeople are in the denial phase of transition, they may say things like:
- “That won’t affect me.”
- “This too shall pass.”
- “I wish they’d finish one thing before moving to another.”
- “I hear lots of talk, but I don’t see much action.”
While it may be difficult for you as a leader to hear those statements, recognize that – by saying such things – employees are starting on the path to transitioning. Encourage them to explore their denial with questions. Counter with a gentle question that helps them articulate what they’re feeling. (For instance, with, “That won’t affect me” ask, “What makes you say it won’t affect you?”)
Resistance typically creates the most conflict during a change. This is where people tend to dig in hard. Statements like, “That will never work,” “If that happens, I’m out of here,”or, “Are you crazy?” indicate that someone is going through the resistance stage of transition. A wise leader will encourage the free expression of resistance because it means the team is moving forward in their transition instead of staying stuck in the status quo.
The cliché “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch,” also fits well with employees in the resistance stage. The quietest salespeople may indeed resist your change covertly – by turning their colleagues against it. Covert resistance is strongest when leaders punish overt resistance, or when change is happening in a low-trust, hierarchical organization that discourages open dialogue.
It is important to respond to resistance without discounting or minimizing the other person’s point of view – by saying, for instance, “Just don’t worry about it.” By discounting the employee’s resistant viewpoint, the leader actually promotes covert resistance to the change – because the employee now believes the leader isn’t being honest about its effects. Find ways to continue the discussion without discounting!
Remember this classic piece of advice when dealing with resistant team members: “Be emotionally unattached from the outcome.” Remaining emotionally unattached may seem extremely challenging at times, but it is essential – and will help salespeople share how they feel with you, so they can move to the next stage.
Once employees are through the resistance stage, they will begin to explore the potential benefits of the change and start looking at how they might move from a theoretical mindset into actual implementation. Ideally, what salespeople discover through exploration is that, when a change benefits their organization, it can also benefit them personally. Leaders who know each team member’s personal goals can make the exploration stage of transition easier by coaching them through the process of discovering how they can now reach their goals faster or easier.
The final stage of transition is an individual’s commitment to new behavior – a stage that facilitates successful adaptation to the new situation. Commitment is the point at which people become personally accountable for taking the actions necessary to integrate themselves into an environment that was once unfamiliar to them. This, too, often requires personal coaching.
Salespeople who have reached this fourth stage are willing to change themselves. Leaders can leverage these committed salespeople by encouraging them to champion change to others who are at earlier stages of transition. This is an important step because salespeople at the commitment stage can often do a better job of relating to their colleagues at earlier stages peer to peer than you can!