Articles & Publications

By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: July 25, 2013

Change-Management-1-300x290Many MANAGEMENT GURUS, ACADEMICS, and CEOs are writing on change, yet there is a difference between the theoretical and academic, and actual change. If you are entrusted to make change happen, run a division, have a strategic HR role, or are in the C-suite, you should be thinking about certain things to get to the essence of what it takes to facilitate change. When successful change occurs, those involved feel that they were the authors of change not the objects of change. They feel fully invested, accountable and energetic about the future, even in the face of huge challenges.

I’ve worked in change and transformation initiatives for over 20 years. Two decades ago, the concept of Change Management began to be popular. Many forward-thinking leaders were learning to “manage change”, and consulting firms started packaging change management services. Some approaches included a revisioning process of rewriting the Vision, Values, Mission and Purpose (VVMP) and cascading it down to help people see how they needed to change culturally to succeed in the new world of moving targets.

Along with revising the VVMP, many companies embarked on Re-engineering, Total Quality, Lean Manufacturing and changed practices and procedure manuals to give people a new set of Commandments from which to operate. Although well intended, these approaches often failed to help leaders make the desired changes. Without realizing it, the energy behind many of these efforts, especially the VVMP, was a top-down compliance approach, where the senior team determined the new direction, strategies and mission, and told people where and when to march.

In some cases, after much effort and marching to a new drum, leaders would give up or lose energy. Some even found that people were more despondent, disillusioned, and disappointed than before. Yet there were successes. We’ll weave a tapestry of how effective change happens, and point to 4 factors that distinguish successes from failures so you can become a Change Warrior not a Change Worrier.

Scars from Change

Anyone who has tried to help companies and leaders change, may have scars from their efforts to usher in a new culture and drive change. The key to successful change is not learning to be better commanders, tellers, or lecturers. The key lies in understanding change from a brain-based perspective that focuses on how change is a process “we” do together, not one “I” do alone.

Change only takes place when we are engaged with others in co-creating conversations, which are not talk-at or tell-me-what-to-do conversations. They are conversations full of discovery and questions that open our thinking. When our “brain-hardwiring changes” then we change.

Scar 1: Managing Resistance:

Resistance and skepticism are companions to change. When you ask people to do things differently, they naturally push back and seek to comprehend the implications of the change in their lives. Yet often we interpret the push-back as a “no,” or we label them as recalcitrant and not “with the program.”

A knee-jerk response is trying to sell people on why change is good. Then when tell or sell doesn’t work, we resort to yell (actually yelling at those who seem resistant), or turning to others in triangulation to influence our target resistors. Either way, we are not dealing with resistance productively because we don’t see that resistance is to be expected. Instead, we fan the flame and make resistance and fear a way of life.

Solution 1: Re-frame:

Stop thinking of your job as one of managing resistance and instead accept resistance as a natural part of change. People need to challenge new ideas before they can accept them. For full ownership and accountability to take place, people need to feel attracted towards the change – pull energy—which feels very different than yelling or telling which is push energy.

To generate pull energy, ensure that they are actively involved as the architects of the change through their active participation. And have authentic, meaningful dialogues (not Power Point presentations) about how, why and how fast to change rather than being asked to merely comply. When leaders make this re-frame, they will release new energy for change.

Scar 2: Underestimate the amount of conversations needed:

We underestimate the time required for the dialogue and conversations people need in order to feel comfortable and to understand what changes are being required, suggested or proposed. When stressed, people’s mental acuity and processing circuitry closes down. When people are afraid, they listen differently.

Fearful of the future impact of changes in their lives, people listen for the implications of how change will affect them. Each person is having his or her internal dialogue, hypothesizing what these changes might be; and usually they fear loss, rarely do they anticipate gain. They fear that they will be rejected, their status will change, and they’ll be transferred or asked to leave.

Solution 2: Changing mindsets:

A better alternative is to create forums where people can have open, candid conversations to learn what is going on and where they belong in the emerging social order. Transparency and openness have a facilitated impact on transforming fears into constructive strategies for success. Allowing fears takes employees’ conversations underground, or internally it feeds fears.

Putting the feared implications on the table and facilitating open conversations about what’s in it for them and why and how changes are taking place, helps people shift their mindsets from loss to gain, from fear to hope, and from scarcity to abundance.

Scar 3: Change is head, heart and soul:

We often think that if we give employees the facts and explain why economically change needs to take place, that they will “buy into the change”. We know from our work with clients, that people are emotional during change and logical facts fail to speak to the limbic brain (the social emotional brain and the driver during change processes). We over estimate logic and underestimate the power of tapping into the emotions through the use of telling stories.

Solution 3: Storytelling:

A better alternative is to use storytelling and narrative to engage people in a constructive way to make change happen. Story telling triggers the Head, Heart and Soul and causes us to “bond” rather than fight.

Oxytoxin is a hormone known to cause us to bond with others in times of stress and change, and positive and uplifting storytelling actually increases the levels of Oxytocin, which in turn creates uplifting and positive outcomes from the ensuring conversations. The fearful “I’s” become “WE’s”. We believe that when this happens, a group becomes a strong team of individuals posed to work together to create change rather than be the objects of change. Narratives and story help unite all Heads, Hearts and Souls together enabling a shared perspective and a new set of possibilities for the future.

Scar 4: Speed of change:

Often we want change to happen fast. We want to inject a serum and make the pain go away. We have little patience in living through change, and we move quickly into convergent decision making about what to change and how. We’ve each been part of many Change Management programs that end in a new set of policies disseminated with the belief that “zapp” the culture will change or “shapeshift” into something new overnight. Proclamations and policy changes are not change-worth practices for changes in DNA.

Solution 4: Navigational Communications:

Create conversational practices that enable people to co-create the future together. These conversations are not about a quick fix, policy, lecture, or tell-sell-yell approach. This is about practicing how to navigate with others in and out of scenarios and alternatives from many perspectives to arrive at practices and rituals that “we” all embrace for how work gets done inside our culture.

Change Leaders who become Change Warriors learn to create conversational space for change, and reduce fears and threats. They help people find their place in the change process and look for how they can positively impact the future, enabling everyone to join together to shape the future.

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