Perhaps you’ve heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same things over and over but expecting different results. With no malice intended, apparently we’ve got a lot of insane people out there. But the truth is that nothing changes if nothing changes.
Do people like change? The answer is “it depends on how it’s presented.” In his article A Road Map for Employee Engagement written for Management-Issues.com, Andy Parsley of Green Lion, a consultancy out of Flintshire, England, says “People love change—they can hardly get enough of it.” To support his position he points to the popularity of all the home makeover shows and the booming business at home improvement stores.
Still, Parsley’s “People love change” statement draws shudders from some people I know. That is, until they hear his continuation: “If people are involved in change and their input to the process is valued, they will readily engage with it.”
Parsley hits the key to buy-in with perfect accuracy: People willingly engage in change if they have genuine input to the process. What people don’t like is having change forced upon them with little advanced notice. Or worse yet, no notice at all.
Since solving problems is a bulk of what managers and leaders do, change is necessary. To quote Einstein again, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
So what does it take for us—as individuals as well as our organizations—to be more comfortable with change? I’m assuming most folks don’t want to be classified insane (doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results), so we need to try something different.
The standard course of action is to articulate the purpose of change. What are we trying to achieve? What difference are we trying to make? How will it improve the bottom line? How will it make our jobs easier? People want answers to these questions, and rightly so.
Unfortunately, many managers and leaders stop there, and that’s why so many change efforts are met with resistance. Cognitive reasoning alone is not the magic bullet. According to researchers at Harvard University studying change practices in business, getting people to change is best accomplished by including an emotional connection. This according to the article Change or Die in the May, 2005 issue of Fast Company.
In the article, Howard Gardner, the same cognitive scientist who developed the concept of multiple intelligences, says that when communicating change, “the story must be simple, easy to identify with, emotionally resonant, and evocative of positive experiences.”
Also quoted in the article was John Kotter, another Harvard researcher. Kottner says “Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people's feelings. This is true even in organizations that are very focused on analysis and quantitative measurement.”
Kotter goes on to say that “In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.”
I have found this approach valuable in my own work. For example, here is a conversation typically heard in one of my management workshops:
Dan: Judy, do you mind me asking how old you are?
Judy: Not at all. I’m 35.
Dan: In the past five years, have you been learning and changing the way you do things so you can be a better manager?
Dan: Would you like to go back to knowing only what you knew at age 30?
Judy: No way!
At this point, Judy—and everyone else in class—sees the value of gaining new perspectives in how to be a better manager.
On a larger scale, in one company I know of, a comprehensive change effort fell short of success when they rolled out their program with (a) no input from anyone lower than a vice-president’s title, and (b) only a cognitive appeal for what it will do the company’s bottom line. At no time did anyone present the change effort in a way that appealed to anyone’s personal well-being.
Yet another company I know of set forth their change efforts by enlisting the input of all employees, with the repeated promise that every effort would be made to make the change happen so the employee’s work would be more fulfilling, more engaging, and everyone would be more proud to be an employee at that company.
You can imagine the night and day reactions in terms of buy-in.
The fact is that nothing changes if nothing changes. And maybe, if we want a successful change effort, we need to change how we implement change. If we don’t, we just might be a little insane.