Many 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 the change happen, run a division, have a strategic HR role or are in the C-suite, think about what it takes to get to the actual essence of facilitating change.
When successful change occurs, those involved feel like authors of change not objects of change. They feel fully invested, accountable and energetic about the future, even in the face of huge challenges. The most successful approaches include a Re-visioning process of rewriting the Vision, Values, Mission and Purpose (VVMP).
Along with revising the VVMP, many companies embark on Reengineering, Total Quality, Lean Manufacturing and changed practices and procedures manuals to give people a new set of Commandments from which to operate.
Although well-intended, these approaches often fail. Why? Without realizing it, the energy behind the VVMP is a top-down compliance approach, where the senior team determines the new direction, strategies and mission. In some cases, after much effort, leaders give up or lose energy. Some even find that people are more disillusioned than before. Yet there are successes -- when leaders become Change Warriors and not Change Worriers.
Scars from Change
Anyone who has tried to help companies and leaders change may bear scars from their efforts. The key to successful change is not learning to be better commanders 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. These are conversations full of discovery and questions that open our thinking. When our "brain-hardwiring" changes then, inevitably, we change.
Scar 1: Managing resistance. Resistance and skepticism are companions
to change. When people are asked to do things differently, they naturally resist, seeking to comprehend the implications of the change in their lives. Yet too often we interpret this resistance as a "no." Then when tell or sell doesn't work, we resort to yell. 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: Reframe. Accepting 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. To generate pull energy, ensure that they are actively involved through active participation. Have authentic, meaningful dialogues (not Power Point presentations) about how, why and how fast to change rather than being asked to merely comply. This will release new energy for change.
Scar 2 Underestimate the amount of conversations needed. Don't underestimate the time required for needed dialogue about change. When stressed, people's mental acuity and processing circuitry closes down. Fearful of the future impact of the changes on their lives, people listen for how change will affect them. Each person is having his or her internal dialogue, hypothesizing what these changes might be. Usually they fear loss instead of anticipating gain.
Solution 2: Changing mindsets. Create forums where people can have open, candid conversations to learn their place in the emerging social order. Transparency and openness have a facilitative impact on transforming fears into constructive strategies for success. Putting the fears 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 from loss to gain and from fear to hope.
Scar 3: Change is head, heart and soul. If we give employees the facts, and explain why change needs to take place, they will "buy into the change," right? But we know from our work with clients that people are emotional during change, and logical facts fail to speak to the limbic brain, which is the social emotional brain. We overestimate 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 constructively engage people. Storytelling triggers the Head, Heart and Soul and causes us to "bond." Oxytoxin is a hormone that causes us to bond with others in times of stress and change. Positive, uplifting storytelling actually increases the levels of oxytocin, which in turn creates uplifting and positive outcomes. The fearful "I's" become "WE's." When this happens, a group becomes a strong team of individuals poised to work together to create change.
Scar 4: Speed of change. Often we want change to happen fast. We have little patience in living through change, and instead 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. These are not change-worthy practices for changes in DNA.
Solution 4: Navigational communications. Create conversational practices where people can co-create the future together. This is not a quick fix, policy, lecture or tell-sell-yell approach. This is about navigating with others from many perspectives to arrive at practices and rituals that "we" all embrace.
Change Leaders who become Change Warriors learn to create fear- and threat-free conversational space for change. They help people find their place in the change process, enabling everyone to join together to shape the future.
Judith E. Glaser, CEO Benchmark Communications, Inc. & Chairman of the Creating WE Institute; Author of 4 Best Selling book including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion 2013;
Joe Bonito advises companies in organizational effectiveness,
leadership transformation and talent management. He has held
VP roles at Pfizer and Coach Inc.