If you’ve been following the posts this month, we’re on a mission to get others to change. No easy task. We’ve already laid out the ways to get the urgency rate high and we’ve followed that up with a step-by-step action plan. So our work is done right? Wrong. Just because those individuals we are attempting to change are off working the change plan we’ve provided, it doesn’t mean we are “out of the woods” just yet. We need to ensure they stick to the plan and that requires monitoring and maintenance. But more than that, it requires a level of cheerleading and celebrating that you are probably not used to. So, in essence, I’m saying that you might need to change (how ironic).

Why cheerlead?

Here’s your “why” as it relates to enhancing your cheerleading efforts. Actually, there are two big reasons why you need to become a master motivator and a “pom-pom” promoter. First, you are asking others to do something that is completely unnatural to him or her. They are likely behaving, acting and thinking in a way that feels awkward, clumsy and unnerving. In their minds, the new efforts they are attempting must not be right because they “feel” wrong. Second, in absence of communication, people always assume the worst. Couple those two things together and the result is that if you aren’t providing constant positive feedback and encouragement, those attempting to change will assume their efforts are ineffective and they will quickly default back to old habits. This reminds me of a coaching client I had several years ago. After making some significant changes on how he interacted with his peers and senior leadership, he received rave reviews on his incredible turnaround. When asked by H.R. what made the difference, he said, “I don’t really know. It doesn’t really make sense to me. All I know is its working.” Don’t expect them to understand the mechanics of the changes they are making. What matters more is that you keep them moving down the path.

Celebrate short-term wins

So, how do you keep them moving down the path? One common “best practice” in any change initiative is to establish and celebrate short-term wins. In other words, even though you may see the entire process taking a year or longer until real success is achieved, your job is to set short very attainable milestones so those making the change know they are making progress. Here are some approaches you can consider that come right out of old-school motivational playbooks:

  • Contests – create contests that either reward the entire group or pit teams against each other to see who can get to the goal faster. Contests work. It’s that simple.
  • Thermometers – old-school, yes, but highly effective. Create a visual “thermometer” that can be used to show progress. As goals are met, color off that portion of the thermometer until ultimately you’ve colored in the entire thermometer.

Just remember that you can have too many contests. As a very successful GM of a high-end luxury retailer told me, “having the right contests in place is an art. You want to reward all of the right behaviors, both individually and as teams, and know that too many contests can dilute your overall efforts until eventually nothing works.” Choose wisely.

Celebrate behaviors

While it’s important to celebrate the overall progress and milestones that are being achieved, it is equally important to celebrate the behaviors that you see on a daily basis. This can range from seeing someone embrace change with a positive attitude to noticing that office curmudgeon actually try. Consider the following individual-focused cheerleading efforts:

  • Symbolic rewards – I remember the story of a CEO who was looking to reward an employee for embracing change. The CEO was so excited to give the employee “something” as a reward he grabbed the first thing he could off of his desk and give it to the employee. It just so happens that that “something” was a banana. Soon that story took off inside the organization and the “banana pin” was created to reward employees for their effort and attitude. What is your “banana”?
  • “I’m proud of you” – There are probably few phrases more powerful than this one. We all long for someone to tell us they are proud of us and frankly it is one of those phrases we can never get enough of it. Yet, we believe somehow we are being condescending or inappropriate when we give it to others. I had an executive coach colleague of mine have that very reaction. She said to me, “Isn’t that patronizing or condescending to tell someone I am proud of them? I would much rather stay at a professional distance.” I responded by saying to her, “O.k. I see your point but let’s set up a hypothetical example. Let’s say you just achieved a major goal that you had been working on for months. Would you rather me say to you, ‘Sounds like you are pleased with your results. Good for you’ or would you rather hear me say ‘I’m really proud of you’.” Without hesitating, she said, “I get it. I feel the difference.” Don’t hesitate to tell those going through the change process that you are proud of them. It will be music to their ears and a symphony to their soul.

You get the idea. Change is tough. We need to walk alongside cheering those who are making the efforts to change not only to ensure their success but also to keep them on the path. If we don’t, we’ll look up one day and realize we are the only ones still left.