Once More With Feeling

One of the reasons that organisations fail to navigate successfully through change is that they try to do it without acknowledging feelings. They start out by communicating the logical arguments for change and introduce the new processes and practices without connecting at an emotional level with the people affected.

When I explore this with executive teams it seems they feel uncomfortable with communicating from the heart rather than just the head and avoid giving people the chance to air their emotional reactions. They feel it will be opening a can of worms and that the change will be derailed or become protracted.

Those organisations that are successful not only acknowledge feelings, they know that when people connect emotionally to the need for change, their reactions propel them into action. As John Kotter says, they see, then feel, then change.
In their book “The Heart of Change” Kotter and Cohen suggest three ways to help people make this leap:

  • When the reason for change is identified and communicated well through compelling, eye-catching, dramatic stories it’s easier for people to visualize problems and also solutions.
  • People need to be allowed to feel the impact of the change. When I work with organisations that are implementing change we always give time and space right at the outset, for people to feel and share how it has impacted them personally. Rather than opening a can of worms, this helps people move into action more quickly and reduces the risk of unacknowledged feeling going underground and becoming more disruptive.
  • Letting people take their emotionally charged ideas into action. When people really get the urgency of the situation, their energy shifts from trying to maintain the status quo to being more creative.

Imagine you are scared of heights and are being asked to cross a high bridge. Everything in you is focused on resisting crossing the bridge. Now imagine someone lighting a fire behind you. Your focus shifts to getting over that bridge, whatever it takes. It’s in this moment of crisis that people are most amenable to change and at their most courageous.
My questions to you are:

  • What represents the bridge for you? (Where are you trying to get to? And what are you resisting?)
  • And what represents the fire? (What is the compelling need?)
  • How can you increase and leverage the urgency?

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