The Secret of Successful Change – at the Workplace

I still remember when Obama ran his first campaign for the White House.  Do you remember?  His catchphrase was CHANGE.  It was different and daring for the time.  However, what I found fascinating was how THAT word – CHANGE -  captured the imagination of the American people (well he did get elected as President).

People were so buoyed and moved and motivated by this word.  It really seemed that “CHANGE” – evoked emotions of optimism and excitement.  And people seemed to have this sense that this change was going to mean new beginnings and improvements, that so many were so ready for.

So what about in the context of the working world and at the workplace….have you seen the same waves of expectancy and excitement when the word CHANGE was used?  Is used?

Chances are, if you, like me, have had the chance to “live” through any form of organisational change the whole idea that things need to change can send people’s emotions awry with fear, doubt and uncertainty and before you know it, you have mild panic on your hands to deal with.  Even more interesting are the behaviours that come out of these emotions, yes, even by mature, grown-up adults.  These behaviours range from complaints about the need to change, to push-back from those resistant to anything different or new, distrust and cynicism about whether the initiatives are going to work, to comments about how much money is being spent and who really this is all benefitting.

No wonder then, that research shows that more than 70% of change initiatives FAIL.

So what is the secret then to leading and managing change within working organisations? 

I found my answers when I stumbled on John Kotter’s work.  Regarded by many as the authority on leadership and change, he has been researching the topic for the last 40 years, involving people in over 130 organisations

John Kotter’s first book LEADING CHANGE (published 1996), shared a blue-print of the 8-step model to lead change – any change in an organisation whether INTERNALLY-driven or EXTERNALLY imposed.

Nicely depicted in the diagramme below.

8 Steps

Kotter International, the company Kotter himself established, has helped hundreds of organizations implement the 8-step model.  However, even as they implemented the framework, they realized that there were some organisation that were more Successful with the change process that is not immediately evident.  Evidence Kotter delved deeper into and highlighted  with a subsequent book to Leading Change.

In their book THE HEART OF CHANGE, Kotter and co-author Dan S Cohen, really got to the core of what really creates success with change initiatives in organisations. Very simply and neatly put Kotter states that all we need to start doing (and thinking) is how we communicate change to the PEOPLE.  Of course when change happens there is Technology and Processes and Policies that have to simultaneously shift and change.  And although we need to stay on top of these what will derail or help your change projects stay on track is to make sure we are creating CHANGES in the behaviour of PEOPLE.  And how you do that is in the winning of the HEARTS AND MINDS of people.   THAT is the KEY to success to initiating and sustaining change.

Kotter and Cohen go on to provide countless examples and case studies to support the fact that in Successful change projects – whether they are new strategy implementation, cultural change, policy changes – success only came as a result when people were able to SEE things differently, which in turn made them FEEL differently, resulting in the changes of behaviour that was critical in ensuring change happened, was sustained and able to  stick.

So here is the deal folks – in order for us to create that BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE we need to re-think this over emphasis on creating data driven presentations to influence THINKING.  I am not saying (and neither is Kotter) that THINKING is not important.   But if we want to benchmark the heroes of change then, where most of us tend to make the mistake of going 90:10 or even 80:20 with more stress in changing thinking, let’s model the approach of successful companies by going 40:60 - that is with more effort placed on changing FEELINGS.

Actually, Kotter mentioned in an interview that all he has found out seems to be in synch with all that we know about brain sciences.  He says “Neurologists seem to agree that there 2 pieces to the brain, the emotional piece and the thinking piece. The emotional piece has a longer history and is more tightly connected to those nerves that change and regulate behaviour. So emotions, to a significant degree is a more powerful lever to change.”

That is one of the reasons why I first fell in love with Kotter’s model for change.  It is so in tune and in line with LOA CENTRE SG’s Think-Feel-Act model for RESULTS.  And what I love about the Action Planning part of the workshop, Our Iceberg is Melting (OIIM) is how part of the action plan is thinking through what we are observing with the behaviours of people at each stage of change (Kotter’s 8-step model).

In the ACTION PLANNING stage of the OIIM workshop we get leaders of change to get better at observing the behaviours of people.  Why?  Because behaviours are the best indicators as to whether we are on the right track. We learn to look for clues in what we are SEEING and HEARING (or not seeing and hearing).  All this would have been captured in our action plans.

And then we are in a better position to use strategies to re-connect  with the hearts and minds of our people so they can SEE-FEEL the need to change and adopt appropriate behaviours to DRIVE CHANGE.

So, if like OBAMA we want to create a group of people who are excited, and motivated and OPTIMISTIC about possibilities as soon as they hear the word CHANGE, hat we want to do is to learn how to best connect with the HEARTS AND MINDS of our People.

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