I’ve been working as a Change Agent for 20+ years now and I’ve been missing the whole point. There is a myriad of Change Methodologies out there, and they all miss the point. All the Change Methodologies are some variation on ADKAR - awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. Get them to want to do it, teach them to do it, reward them for doing it. This works sometimes, but it’s hard. It’s hard and because you are working against the grain. And worse yet, it doesn't usually work.
I attended a coach training a few years ago, and when I spoke about my work in ‘Change’, one of the leaders asked that I not say “Change People” because people are naturally “Creative, Resourceful and Whole” according to the course creators, CTI. I was outraged, “You just discredited an entire industry! I just got back from a Change Management Conference!” It took me 2 years to realize that she was right, the entire industry of Change Management is trying to get people to change, instead of co-creating with people.
How can it be different? Note: For today, we'll simply talk about dealing with change. We'll save a discussion on how we got here in the first place, for another day.
Allow Emotion Rather than Address Fears. During a change, some people feel fear, anger, frustration and anxiety. Traditional approaches recommend a mix of “get them to want it” and “have answers for their fears.” It sounds something like this, “This will really help the company and don’t worry, no one is going to lose their job.” What I’ve learned after many, many attempts, is that telling people not to be afraid, angry, frustrated or anxious, doesn’t actually help.
What does help? Letting people be real and open with their emotions. Can you create a safe container for people to face their emotions, and support each other? A place where someone can say “I’ve spent my entire career building these skills that are no longer valued. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to go back to an entry-level job. And I’m frustrated because I don’t think this new approach will work, but I know that if I don’t get on board I’ll lose my job.”
Sometimes simply naming the fear can resolve it. It’s like shining a light on the monster under the bed, saying it aloud causes it to lose its power.
When the time is right, make the Shift. Now that we’ve opened up a room full of people letting their negative emotions out, how do we help them shift into a stance that can help move them forward? Find the balance between letting the emotions out and not letting the negativity settle in and take over. Don’t try to shift people into a positive stance until ALL of their negative emotions have been exhausted. This will take some reliance on sensing. Have they shared what is really beneath their fears? If you try to move someone into a positive space and they still have negative emotions, you will feel like you are playing whack-a-mole with their objections.
Red flags that negative emotions still need to come out:
When someone is angrily arguing process with you.
When someone demands that you give them the “better way” or “the answer”.
For every answer you give, they interrupt your answer and jump to a new objection.
Arms folded, a scowl on the face, leaned back in a chair.
People may need time to process and may not be shifting into boundless joy in minutes, you’ll need to create a path for them. They might not be ready to cross that path, but it’s there when they need it.
Move Above the Line. There are several frameworks out there that use the term “Above the Line - Below the Line.” such as The Oz Principle and Christopher Avery. The basic idea is that “Below the Line” behaviors are things like fear, blame, frustration, anger. “Above the Line” holds things like responsibility, courage, engagement, innovation.
Here are some questions you might pose to people as they get ready to shift:
How does it feel to be in this state? Ex. “How does it feel that your skills may no longer be valued?”
Is it serving you?
Do you want to continue operating this way?
What do you need to do in order to move forward?
What are some possibilities you haven’t thought about?
Does every single individual need therapy? If this sounds like we need therapy for every single person in an organization as it goes through change, the answer is “not exactly, but kind of.” I used to think that Organizational Change could happen at a more systemic level, adjust some levers and POOF! change happens. While that has to happen too when people say “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch” what they mean is “Deep Emotions need to be Addressed.” If you don’t address each individual, the negativity grows like a cancer.
Individual’s emotions need to be heard. The good news:
It can take just a few minutes for some folks.
One person speaking out can represent many with similar fears.
Some people are simply above the line already.
Innovate and Co-Create! One the group has moved 'above the line' you can start to talk about new possibilities. Have Fun!
How has your organization approached Change Management? How did it turn out? Let us know!