Successful change isn’t just about process – don’t forget emotions

‘First you must learn to hop before you can drive’ and other lessons you learn from life.

When I was first learning to drive I was mortified by my ‘kangaroo hops’.

Those jerky accelerations every new driver does on acceleration. They occur at the most embarrassing time – when you’re pulling away from the lights, at a busy intersection or right in front of your peers.

Kangaroo hops are a sure sign to the world that your ‘new at this’, as a novice the last thing you want is to draw attention to yourself and be embarrassed in front of your peers.

What stands out about this experience for me is the emotions I experienced as I faced and mastered this challenge.

Emotions drive change

Yes I was taught the technical skills of driving but what motivated me to succeed  was that I

1) wanted to avoid the embarrassment of kangaroo hops,

2) have pride in the mastery of a new skill and

3) I desired the independence and freedom that comes with driving.

In change management we’re encouraged to use models, frameworks and approaches to achieve success.

But do these guarantee success?  It would seem it is not as transformational change is well know to have a poor success rate. Instead perhaps we should be focusing on the emotions of change and managing these to the give the process the best opportunity for success.

Change at work or transformation

Everyone reacts to change in different ways and moves through the change process or cycle at different speeds, so it is no wonder that when you you’re undergoing change in the workplace it feels like you are taking ‘one step forward and two steps back’,  or that in a lot of cases a significant number of planned changes fail at the first, second or third hurdle.

Introducing change predictably goes through a number of steps/cycles as outlined below

http://www.totalfocus.ie/the-change-process-cycle/ Image Courtesy of: Total Focus

I particularly love this representation of the highs and lows of change as it gives you insight into our emotional reaction to change. If you spend some time imaging the dominant emotions associated with each step in this process you can begin to generate a picture of how staff might be feeling as you go through your change journey.

The emotions of change

wheel-of-emotions-300x293

Each stage in the change process will elicit different emotions

  • Old status quo – comfortable, competent, serene,
  • Resistance – distrust, terrified, panicky, inferior, embarrassment, stress
  • Chaos – bewildered, baffled, trapped, disorganised, adrift, anxiety, insecurity
  • Transforming Idea – re-enegised, exhilarated, inquisitive,  curiosity
  • Integration -mastery, confidence, hopeful
  • New status quo – comfort, calmness, competent, serene

Just this quick summary of potential emotions shows what a roller coaster change can be for staff as they tackle transformational change.

So what can you do to make change easier to bear for success?

Are you ready to lead change?

Most people know change is inevitable and necessary for progress, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it, accept or embrace it.  Likewise for you as manager and leader  championing and managing change is hard.

As leaders of change McKinsey & Company conclude

“organizational change is inseparable from individual change”.

They argue that being your own ‘inner lookout’, and the business’s ‘outer lookout’ means understanding your 4 dominant styles so that you know what is driving you.

Armed with this understanding, and being on the ‘lookout’ for where and what style your operating from, will help you shift your style and approach when necessary to be successful in change leadership.

NB: I am not using change leadership in the way that Kotter has defined it but rather as the executive who is charged with leading a change management team.

Focus on emotions as well as the mechanics

I would go one step further and say that as a change leader you must not only understand and manage your reaction to the change you must invest in understanding  the nuances of your staff’s reaction to the change to be successful.

The most significant challenge with change is capturing the hearts and minds of staff so that they commit to the change.

There might be lots of other small challenges such as technology, infrastructure, resources or process considerations but they pale into insignificance if you can’t get the support of your staff.

Change leadership requires skills in emotional intelligence and motivation and the removal of your ‘rose coloured glasses’ so that you actually see and pick up on the fears, hopes and challenges that are being experienced by staff.

First you should understand and work with these emotional and intellectual reactions to change if we want to achieve success.

Where to from here

Have you found success when you focussed on responding to the emotions of your staff?

I’d love to hear your success stories or views, please leave a comment.

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About the author – Helen Attrill, MBA

Hi, Just a bit about myself – I have over 26 years as a leader in the aged care and not for profit sector and have led the successful implementation of significant sector, profession and organisational change.

If you’re struggling with some aspect of change management or frustrated with your progress then maybe I can help please feel free to contact me by emailing me at helen@helenattrill.com.

To find out more about my work visit Meet Helen page.