How CEOs Can ‘Pre-Suade’ Employees to Embrace Organizational Change

5 min read
May 2, 2017

organizational-changeIn 1984, psychologist Robert Cialdini released Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Very simply, the book examines the psychology behind what makes people say “yes” to something — and how understanding those techniques can help marketers and other professionals achieve the outcomes they desire.

In 2016, Cialdini released a follow-up book called Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. Essentially, this book argues that in order to become a master persuader, you need to learn how to “pre-suade” people, i.e., prime them so that they are in the right frame of mind and more susceptible to persuasion when it’s time to deliver your message.

When used correctly, pre-suasion can help you get the results and outcomes you desire. The skill could help you hire more talented workers or sell to your customers more effectively.

It can also help you encourage your employees to embrace organizational change — which is incredibly important, considering nearly 70% of organizational change initiatives are doomed to failure, according to the Harvard Business Review.

In a recent interview published on Forbes, Cialdini laid out four ways CEOs and other decision makers can pre-suade their employees to boost the chances that they are on board with any organizational change initiatives that come down the pike.


01. Become a credible source of information

If you don’t have a great relationship with telling the truth, your employees are going to have a much harder time getting on board with your change-management efforts. On the flip side, the more brutally honest you are, the more likely your employees will be to believe in your vision and trust the messages you’re conveying.

“Warren Buffett begins his annual report by describing something his company didn’t do well that year, and what they are doing to correct their error,” Cialdini says. “That builds confidence by establishing a level of honest credibility. Then when he talks about the company’s strengths, people process them more deeply.”

Change is scary for many people. Since no one can predict the future, there’s always a chance that organizational change efforts will fail spectacularly.

Prior to launching your change initiatives, be very clear and honest to your employees about any potential downsides there may be to your ideas. Let them know what can go wrong and, in the event it does, how they can expect those failures to impact them.

After you’ve done that, it’s time to talk about the upsides to your change initiative. Employees will be more likely to get on board with the positives associated with your change efforts thanks to your honest assessment.

“Whenever you suggest something new, there is uncertainty,” Cialdini says. “You can reduce the doubts about what you are saying and convince people that your evaluation of the future is accurate and honest, and that your vision is potentially worthwhile.”


02. Tap into your workers’ adventurous spirits

According to a study Cialdini cites in Pre-Suasion, research shows that we are more likely to do a specific action when we’re first asked whether we are adventurous. The study revealed that 33% of respondents would give their email address to a company in exchange for a free sample of a soft drink. If the question was preceded by asking the subject whether they were adventurous, 77% of respondents obliged.

Great leaders have the ability to tap into their employees’ openness to adventure and change. To do that, ask your employees about specific examples of change that worked in past.

By citing real-world examples of change efforts that were successful — and walking employees through from the initial feelings of angst and confusion to the ultimate conclusion that was thoroughly positive — leaders can increase the chances that their employees will be willing to follow them into an uncertain future.



03. Understand the importance of perfect timing

If you plan on making any serious organizational change during the holiday season, it’s almost certain that your efforts will be futile.

That’s because the right timing plays a major role in the success of any change initiative. Research shows that people are more willing to make major changes at the beginning of the month or the year or even the week. They are also more likely to embrace change when they move to a new location.

“In the US armed forces, there is a big attempt to get personnel to enroll in retirement programs — to set aside income for future,” Cialdini says, citing research in Pre-Suasion. “They don’t have a lot of disposable income. The programs haven’t been successful even though in long run they will be of great benefit of participants. There is even a matching fund. There is one particular time when people are most willing to enroll in a retirement program. After they’ve moved to a new base — when they’ve relocated. If you make requests for change at the start of something new, people are more open to it than when they are comfortably set in their status quo.”

If you’re planning on moving to a new facility, for example, that may be the perfect opportunity to get your employees on board with your organizational change ideas.

When change management ideas are floated at the end of the quarter, employees have no choice but to look backward and see what went wrong. They begin thinking about whether the change efforts will be successful. On the other side of the coin, when change is discussed at the beginning of a quarter, employees look to the future and begin thinking about positive possibilities.

Time the announcement of your organizational change efforts correctly to increase the chances your employees are on board.


04. Find your common ground

“A sense of togetherness is critical to extending broad influence. When people act in unitary ways, they become unitized,” Cialdini says. “The resultant feelings of group solidarity produce degrees of loyalty and self-sacrifice that strengthen organizations.”

We’ve all worked at organizations where management (them) acted and was treated differently than run-of-the-mill employees (us). In such instances, nobody is really inspired to believe in the changes management announces because they are not connected to the lower-level workers.

If you want your organizational change efforts to succeed, it is critical that you develop a sense of camaraderie with all of your employees. Avoid siloing management from the rest of the team. Work hard every day and lead by example. That way, when it comes time to convince your team that major changes are necessary, they’ll be willing to work with you.

A majority of organizational change efforts are unsuccessful — this despite the fact that change (i.e., adaptability) is a critical component of any successful company.

To increase the chances that your change initiatives return dividends, start thinking about pre-suasion and the role it plays in the process of persuasion. The more pre-suasive you become, the easier it will be to get others to share your vision.





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