Making change happen – on three levels
“You have to get it. To want change you have to want it, feel the need for it, understand Why the New and Why Not the Old.”
When you are planning change for yourself you get this, you know why you’re planning to find a new home, why you are looking for a new job, why you want to achieve something. You put your mind, heart and hands into it.
When planning change for others at work you also know. You work hard on understanding the purpose, the alternatives, the cost/benefit, the references, the implementation, the new goals, the first steps and the obstacles. And later, when you know the plan is good, you tell “them” about it. What do they do?
They kill or ignore our newborn baby. The openly criticize the idea or have nothing to say when we ask “do you have any questions?”. They resist passively. They spread rumors that grow. We’ve been there.
Why is this a surprise and if it is not, why do we so often drive everyone crazy with change?
In the process We have our mind, our heart and our hands engaged building everything for a long time and then – for a brief while – we engage Their eyes and ears. They activate their minds = critical thinking, and then decide they do not like/understand/trust all they see and hear. But when we ask them: “Any questions?” there are almost none. A bigger group – less questions. They walk out of the auditorium not understanding the new plan.
This is a decisive moment in leading change. This is where we often go wrong.
How can we touch and engage their minds, hearts and hands as we need to? If you think you can do it via a presentation you are off track. Even a great, Steve Jobs-like presentation is a success only if you bring in an important positive development to a believing crowd and you have a proven track-record. Was the previous change effort in our organization a thundering success?
Engaging the intellect
When telling people about forthcoming change we tend to activating the intellectual, critical mind. But only the business-minds on a management team get turned on by ROI, savings of 4,3 % equalling 5,7 million (or was it 57 million?), only for them is a percentage a driver that activates all three levels of mind, emotions and will. They understand, love and want money and numbers.
But for others, a sound business decision to change needs to be translated to a different language or an experience that makes sense of it even if ROCE does not really drive their heart.
If we try to engage emotions via presentations we may try to build a sense of urgency, an image of the burning platform and a crisis like Steven Elop recently did at Nokia. Danger is that the tactic may indeed induce an emotion, fear. People react to fear with fight/flight and paralysis, not really the positive engagement, initiative and courage we need when entering the new world. If we engage the wrong emotions, we then lose the minds and the wills.
Stating that the emperor has no clothes can be really good, when what we are doing makes no sense. Generally this is true for organizations where fear and staleness have already crept in and the joy of work has disappeared. Facing the facts is good. It will be interesting to follow the change and language at Nokia during the next couple of years. Fear and losses or enthusiasm and drive?
What to do?
To be successful, we must help people experience the need for change and the solutions for change in a way that touches them on all three levels. One way:
Talk with them, not to them.
Create a sense-making dialogue that makes it possible for people to say, ask, praise & criticize. Don’t let them out of the room worrying about the new plan without having a process in place where they can make sense of the issues.
How can you know what people understand about your plan? Only by asking them and listening. Only if you listen with respect can you correct misunderstandings and solve problems you did not know existed. Only if people also hear each other praise the benefits of the change can they really understand it, in and on their own terms. Help them do all of that.