Positive Change Management
The conventional wisdom with change management is that leaders should set out a clear vision for the change. They create a compelling sense of ‘urgency’, communicate the vision clearly and explain the rationale for the change. The assumption being that good communication will dispel fear of the unknown and create ‘buy-in.’
Of course, anyone who has actually expereiced major organisational change knows the result is usually the same; staff anxiety, resentment and resistance. All the well-intended communication in the world doesn’t counter the normal human response to change, which is personal fear of how change will impact oneself.
Worse still, when ‘selling the vision’ is the only tool in the toolbox many managers simply double down, further pushing the vision hoping more persuasion equals more buy-in. Ultimately staff hear these broken record messages as ‘management insensitivity’ towards their concerns, many of which are entirely valid -causing both sides to dig and become more entrenched and distrustful.
Emotional intelligence anyone?
Stevenson Carlebach is a conflict resolution expert and business consultant to Fortune 500 companies all over the world. Drawing from his previous training as family therapist he has developed an approach to change management which does not threaten people.
Carlebach’s model frames each conversation as a coin with two sides. The first side, the side with which managers are already familiar, is the vision for the change. Carlebach calls this the persuasion side because it’s all about persuading people to accept the change. So far so good.
The other side of the coin is the expected reaction to the change. Carlebach calls this side the resistance side, given change is usually met with resistance.
When you understand the distinction between the two sides you can do something completely different. Instead of hammering away at the persuasion side (i.e. pushing the vision) you can switch over to the resistance side. As you do, as counterintuitive as it might feel at first, the task is to emphasise with the resistance.
For example, you could say….
• “I understand as you hear me say this you will have some real concerns about how this affects you.”
• “No doubt you are worried about whether the new system will make life harder for you.”
• “I would understand if you were worried about how this impacts your job. Is that’s what's concerning you?'
• “I want to hear the problems you are most concerned about and explore how we can tackle them.”
Sometimes just acknowledging the resistance side is enough to reduce it. We all want our concerns to be heard and validated. Moreover, empathy connects with a different part of the brain,- away from the threatened flight/flight anxiety response towards the Prefrontal Cortex. The Prefrontal Cortex governs executive functioning- such as ability to relate to others, to plan, and to make rational and logical decisions.
The result is a more trusting, solution focussed dialog which is more open to discussing concerns and exploring ways to manage them.
Ask yourself which would you prefer for yourself.
A manager who keeps explaining the need for the change?
Or someone who genuinely appreciates how the changes impact you and is open to discussing ways of minimizing the impact?
Positive change management; Putting it all together….
Positive Psychology encourages managers to identify and harness people’s strengths at the best of times. Harnessing people’s strengths is a proven strategy for increasing job satisfaction and performance at work.
In times of change focussing on people’s strengths becomes even more important. Managers should be meeting regularly with staff and discussing any aspects of the change that trouble them. They can then start a conversation matching the person’s strengths to any specific concerns.
Helen is a young lawyer working as a client relationship manager. Her main role is to assist business negotiations by doing background research on each of the parties’ most important needs and providing advice during business meetings. Recently it was announced Helen’s team was merging with another business unit in the firm and the future of Helen’s role was uncertain.
In discussion with her manager Helen was invited to discuss the parts of her role she enjoys most; That is, she was invited to discuss her strengths. It emerged her favourite part of her role was the research component. Performing research drew upon her strengths of curiosity and critical thinking and she often wished she could spend more time in the ‘research zone.’ In contrast, she was never as comfortable in the combative environment of meetings and business negotiations.
Helen’s research skills were highly valued by her manager. Balancing Helen’s strengths in research with the changing needs of the expanding team, her job description was re-drafted to create a specialised research position. Helen’s ability to prepare the ground work for business negotiations would become her specialty which would provide valuable support for the more extroverted colleagues, many of whom preferred the face to face meetings.
This case could have been just another example of change, with all the usual anxiety and increased staff turnover. However, by 1) empathising with people’s concerns, and 2) linking their strengths to the future needs of the team, it became an opportunity to increase engagement and allow people to play more their strengths.