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We all manage change. As we adopt new things, we test, probe, plan and decide. We image our lives with and without the change. We bring practices and habits from our experience.

Emotional responses to change

Yet when we deliver change, we are tempted to skip this part of the journey. We rationalise that we don’t have time. That we are paying their salary, so people will change. We are, perhaps, afraid of dealing with emotions.

As a project manager, I manage risk, and a workforce that doesn’t support – or even rejects – change poses the biggest risk to any transformation. Like any change manager, I ponder change. So, when I found myself bobbing along the bottom of the change curve, I took note.

The change curve shows our changes in emotion as we experience change.
The change curve shows our changes in emotion as we experience change. The change curve has many faces, apologies if the words here don’t match the ones you know.

I watched myself; I wanted to know what brought me back up the other side. To my surprise, time eased my doubts. Honestly, I can’t find a trigger, action or self-talk that made me ‘pull up my socks’ and get on with the change. One day I just started.

Should we plan change hoping our teams wake up one day with their hearts full of acceptance, ready to explore the change and bursting with confidence? Of course not, we must help them get there.

To help people accept change, contribute and regain their equilibrium, we need leaders.

Leaders come in many shapes and sizes. They could be a manager or supervisor. A charismatic senior manager might inspire change. An influencer may spread our message.

Or we might work with a change expert to engage our people and bring new ways of managing change.

What about negative people?

If you look at the words on the change curve, you will see feelings that drive behaviours that seem like rejection of change. Disrupted people point out problems that are stopping them doing their job. Exploration uncovers risks. Even at the top of the curve, problem solving can only start by acknowledging a problem. To my mind the ‘problem’ besetting change initiatives isn’t negativity, but our failure to understand our people.

When we need people for a specific skill set, we can’t expect them to become different people when change happens. My favourite example is engineers.

Organisations employ engineers for their analytical, detail oriented, careful approach. Top-down change pushes them outside their comfort zone.

Once, when I was delivering a strategic communication, an engineer told me “Don’t give me platitudes, I need facts”

To bring engineers on a change journey, we have to ‘show our workings’. We must listen to the risks and concerns their curious, brilliant minds flag up, seemingly out of nowhere. And we need to adapt our plans to succeed.

That’s just (some) engineers, everyone has different needs during change.

What can we do?

  1. Use different styles of communication to include everyone – cover ‘what, why, how, when, where’
  2. Communication must be two-way. We must listen to people’s questions and concerns. Then take action.
  3. Remember our different motivational drivers, some people need only a few minutes of vision before their minds turn to the practical details of introducing a new way of working.

Returning to the change curve, at the top a few words suggest completion. But two phrases tell us the change may not yet be done – problem solving and rebuilding. Until your soft (e.g. employee engagement) and hard (e.g. performance) metrics show your project is finished, continue managing your change.

*This number comes from a study by, David Leonard and Claude Coltea called ‘Most change initiatives fail – but they don’t have to’ pushed by Gallup.com on 24 May 2013, https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/162707/change-initiatives-fail-don.aspx

There is more to successful change programmes than tailoring your communications. If you would like to learn more, please get in touch Contact.

This blog examines customer experience and its relationship to business performance from my unique perspective. If you want to learn more, head over to my contact page and get in touch.

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