-reading time: 4 minutes- / -audience: change agents, transformation project managers-
IF I COULD ONLY REACH YOU, THAT WOULD BE A BREAKTHROUGH
Have you ever noticed the emotions involved when you want to change something or you are going through a change? Joy or sadness, anger or fear, trust or distrust, surprise or anticipation? These are our primitive emotions, which are hard-wired responses in all of us and correspond to a distinct and dedicated neurological circuit. Being hardwired, basic emotions (or ‘affect programs’) are innate and universal, automatic, and fast, and trigger behaviour with a high survival value.
Change evokes emotions and as you may have experienced yourself in your business life, most of the time change evokes fear and distrust, leading to frustration and physical responses such a stress. It makes you feel uncomfortable and you would probably start finding ways to relieve yourself from stress as it feels unpleasant and unwanted.
But would it be worthwhile to embrace this stress and dig deeper into what actually stresses you or others out?
How CHANGE MANAGEMENT is presented to you
Most of the transformation projects that we participate in, have a very high cognitive load. Project managers explain to you and your team why it makes so much sense to implement the transformation along a plan or process. A typical transformation process consists out of a number of steps and if laid out well, it adheres to the following principles of change management, which will increase the level of commitment and decrease the level of resistance to change:
And if you are lucky, the change project management team makes use of a solid framework – not only on paper, but also throughout the full implementation – which consists of the following 7 steps:
I deliberately say ‘lucky’ because in most cases a number of these steps are skipped, ignored or rushed through, rooted in lack of resources and time. It could be that the pressure of shareholders and board members on the CEO and subsequently the transformation project management to implement a turnaround as soon as possible, is very high. Or the chosen change agent is not fully committed, or in some cases not accepted by the members of the organisation, and does not master the change process till the end. And sometimes, there is not even a framework or a plan to begin with.
In any case, the change project manager cannot skip the 2 main objectives: aligning the key stakeholders and 2) engaging the organisation:
1 Align Key Stakeholders
Strong planning is critical to change management success. There are many change scenarios that call for many different responses. Perhaps increasing competition demands a new focus on retaining customers? Or maybe business success is causing pains?
A strong planning will help you:
- Understand the need for change to build proactive rather than reactive plans
- Create plans that are supported by the key organization players
2 Engage the Organization
Implementation is your most difficult challenge. Building management alignment on new visions and strategies is an easy task when compared to broader organizational alignment.
Your implementation success will depend on the steps you take to help affected employees connect with the new strategic direction and understand their new role.
Motivate change by communicating a sense of urgency and explain the change thoroughly before any action is taken. You will only succeed if you are patient. People must first understand why change must occur before they are expected to adopt change.
How change makes you feel
As mentioned, mostly the emphasis of a transformation project is to make you understand what is presented. Numbers, steps, consequences, benefits, and so on. And in most cases it means that you need to get ready to move out of your comfort zone. And moving out of your comfort zone evokes these primitive emotions, those hard-wired responses, leading to some form of stress. You feel this stress and you want to make it go away.
But… what if you dig deep in yourself and ask yourself what exactly makes you feel stressed and embrace is so that you can work with it and use it as a source of development?
Try to understand what frustrates you by digging into the following levels of experience:
Do I struggle with accomplishing tasks or goals?
This the what
Do I struggle with developing new competences?
This is the how
Do I struggle with a new way of being, for what I stand for?
This is the who
These are also important cues for the transformation project manager to be aware of as it opens the floor to addressing blockages that are not only appear on a cognitive level. In many cases, people do understand what is expected from them, but they struggle with committing themselves to a change:
- Doing/what: I will not have the time or resources to be able to accomplish the new tasks and goals
- Learning/how: I lack the competencies and I fear that I will not be able to learn it or receive the support to master new skills
- Being/who: this change does not suit my existing values, beliefs, interests or purpose
From my experience, these three levels are often mixed up or not fully addressed separately. When frustration is expressed and resistance is high, it is typically translated into he/she doesn’t want to do it – which is only explaining the what.
presented change & felt change leading to Mutual commitment
Alignment and engagement should result in a mutual commitment. This mutual commitment can only happen when both sides involved in change are open about what precisely frustrates the change taker and how the change maker can convert awareness into meaningful support to take the frustration away.
The way I think of this is, is as a dialectic process, which is at base a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth that works for all. Think of a contradiction between ideas that serves as the determining factor in their relationship, which comprises three stages of development:
- A thesis or statement of an idea, which gives rise to a second step (the change, the presented situation)
- A reaction or antithesis that contradicts or negates the thesis (the current situation)
- And third, the synthesis, a statement through which the differences between the two points are resolved (the mutual commitment)
I find it important to strive for a synthesis in a transformation project, a synthesis which is the result of the presented thesis, the experience antithesis and the mutual – integral, which is on all three levels – commitment as the synthesis. In reality, some form of synthesis comes out most of the time, however I would not solely consider the ratio, the logic, and discount the emotions that are evoked.
For both change makers and change takers, it is essential to take the responsibility to address all three levels integrally: the what, the how and the who. Only focusing on the cognitive level is not sufficient to achieve the needed alignment and engagement and your change project will fail.
Only by achieving an integral buy-in, a change project serves the full purpose, gives space to the full potential and leads to the best performance possible.
And as Freddy Mercury sang:
If I could only reach you
If I could make you smile
If I could only reach you
That would really be a breakthrough