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The Role of Emotions in Change

Very rarely do I get so inspired by something I get in an e-mail that I want to write about it.

Charlie Gilkey’s newsletter, which I subscribe to, contained a short piece in it which I absolutely loved. He talks about the fact that when we have fears or insecurities, we often think (sometimes we are even told) that we should get over them. This is even more so if the emotions are a reaction to something we are doing at work, for there is still the feeling that fear and insecurity have no place in the workplace.

And yet… We all feel them at some point. I often think that the best way to deal with emotions is by acknowledging them. Self-awareness must come first, or else you will always operate at surface level, not really understanding why you are doing anything.

The next step would be to ask yourself: “What’s the worse that could happen?”

Sometimes the answer to this might make things even worse! But then at least you know that you have reasons for being afraid, nervous, anxious…that you are right to feeling that way. You will also be aware than in moving forwards, in making things better, you might have to fight through those insecurities.

If the answer to “What’s the worse that could happen?” calms you down, then celebrate it. But don’t punish yourself for still feeling strong emotions. We are all human. Just know that your fears will disappear once you begin to change.

Sometimes the emergence of emotions signal that we care. That what we are doing is important to us. That big things are at stake.

In the same way, don’t forget to see this as a reason of why others react strongly against change: sometimes they care so much, they can’t help it.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Charlie Gilkey. He mainly addresses entrepreneurs but I think his thinking translates just as well to the wider workplace as, though we are not all growing businesses, we still keep growing ourselves.

“If you’re doing something worth doing, it’s normal to feel anxious, afraid, insecure or uncertain. Extraordinary journeys come with their fair share of extraordinary emotions.”

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in change, leadership

 

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Actions Speak Louder than Words

What is the best way to turn around a customer service policy that is overburdended with procedure?

BURN THE MANUAL!

That is exactly what Gordon Bethune did when he finally accepted the post of CEO at Continental Airlines.

Bethune turned down twice the offer of becoming CEO due to a difference of opinion with the Board – they wanted to cut costs, he thought that would bring the company down. One of the first things he did after accepting the offer in 1994, was to set fire to a pile of customer service manuals in the parking lot, sending a powerful message: less procedures, more common sense.

(Source The Tools of Cooperation and Change Christensen and Stevenson. HBR Oct 2006, 84 (10) from Bethune’s book From Worst to First: Behind the Scenes of Continental’s Remarkable Comeback

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in change, leadership

 

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Change doesn’t Change

The key to a successful change initiative continues to be reaching people’s hearts.

The world has changed a lot since 1979 – business has most definitely gone global, at every scale. Business has gone virtual, a word that in 1979 meant something completely different. But people’s anxieties, fears and dreams remain pretty much the same.

The essence of human nature has proved to stay fairly constant over the centuries – otherwise, why do we still watch Shakespeare and Greek drama? Our core seems to be challenged when we undergo change, the ground shifts under our feet and we have to change the way things are… because they are just not good enough. Even if the change is for the best, our habits might secretly, subconsciously and subtly, resist.

I have just finished reading a brilliant article, originally written in 1979 and re-printed in 2008 (Harvard Business Review Vol. 86 Issue. 7/8) by John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger. I will take the liberty to quote the first paragraph here as, to be honest, I can’t really put it any better.

In 1973, The Conference Board asked 13 eminent authorities to speculate what significant management issues and problems would develop over the next 20 years. One of the strongest themes that runs through their subsequent reports is a concern for the ability of organizations to respond to environmental change. As one person wrote: “Reorganization is usually feared, because it means disturbance of the status quo, a threat to people’s vested interests in their jobs, and an upset to established ways of doing things.”

Changing involves rewiring our thought-patterns, changing our habits, modifying our routines. Some people enjoy the routine that work can bring. Change can bring about the loss of friendships or strong professional relationships; it can change our physical environment; it can undermine what we have already learned as we have to being a conscious learning journey.

But change can also help us grow, consolidate weak ties, unlock new potential and seal new relationships. The difficulty is in balancing the negative aspects of change, which appear usually in the short-term, with the benefits that the long-term process can bring.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in change

 

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Communication During Change

Don’t rush to inspire: inform first.

When thinking about what and how to communicate a change initiative to your team, consider that people will react differently to the news; they will assimilate them differently and at different stages. It might therefore be unwise to insist at the beginning of the process that change will bring with it wonderful things, when people might be confused, or even scared.

Karl G Schoemer, in his book ‘Change is Your Competitive Advantage’, defines three types of communication, with relation to leading others through change:

  1. Informative communication
  2. Supportive communication and
  3. Inspirational communication.

Schoemer suggests selecting each different type of communication to suit each individual and the stage in the assimilation of change at which they are at. Or, if you need to create one piece of communication to address many people (a speech or a memo for example) then he suggests using each mode in the order presented above.

Let’s have a look at teach type of communication.

Informative Communication

When hearing about a change, it is difficult to decide what it means to us until we have some details (unless of course, you’re incredibly happy or incredibly fed up with your current situation).

In the early stages of implementing change, it is worth addressing who, what, where, when and how, the plans and schedules currently in place, why the change is necessary and how it will benefit individuals, teams, the organisation and the end users or customers.

Depending on the complexity of the change, you will be able to give more or less details during your initial communications or conversations. If the change is a complex one, then give a timeframe of when more details will be provided.

There is little point in going straight into the “inspirational talk” when your team members don’t really understand the nature of the change. Unlike you, they might have only heard rumours about plans or might not even be aware that change is on its way. Try to bring them up to speed before letting them know how much better off they will be in the long-term. Even before you try to inspire them, you will need to show them some support.

Supportive communication

Showing appreciation to those undergoing change is vital. It takes a lot of effort to change and there are few things as unmotivating as not having your efforts recognised.

Appreciating everyone’s efforts, celebrating good results and acknowledging that change is not always easy, can all go a long way to help morale.

Inspirational Communication

Once your team members know how the change will affect them and are beginning to adapt to the new way of working, they will be more open to hearing you talk about how great the change is going to be for everyone.

This can, of course, be difficult if the change is a restructure that has involved redundancies. In this case, it is worth emphasising the need to find new ways of working as soon as possible in order to arrive at the point where you all feel like you are working at your best. This does not mean of course asking everyone to forget how things were (remember William Bridges’ point “treat the past with respect”), but identify if there are ways in which the team can build on previous successes to find a new optimum way of operating.

I cannot emphasise enough the need for communication. Nothing is as clear cut as the suggestion above, but hopefully this will help you to keep everyone on track. The important thing to remember is that the way in which you communicate will need to change with time and will depend on who you are communicating with – not just due to the different behaviours and personalities in your team, but also due to where they are in the process to change.

For more on the need to accept change in business, I recommend Change is Your Competitive Advantage: Strategies for Adapting, Transforming, and Succeeding in the New Business Reality.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in change, leadership

 

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