Most of us think that change is necessary and sometimes inevitable but at the same time, many of us also think that it can be highly problematic, or hard to implement. So, what do we do? We try to plan, control and make it as smooth as possible; nonetheless, change happens!
We also hear, see, think, and feel in a particular way because of the language we speak. Language is important because the way in which we talk about our world has everything to do with the way the world is ultimately understood and acted in.
So, in complex situations like an organizational change, the language used by leaders and managers will frame not only the vision (image) of the change, but also the experience of it (emotion). The language managers use about the process of change imposes both: a structure of reasoning, and a frame for the emotional experience of the change.
As an example, please read the following statements:
- The implementation of this new ERP system is going to be difficult, complex and messy at times. We need to be quick in asserting the major aspects of this change and talk to the people.
- The implementation of this new ERP system, even though complex, will be fun, liberating and transformational to our team, our clients and our company. We need to be fast in asserting the major aspects of this change and talk to the people.
Clearly, by changing the way we speak about the new ERP system in the above examples, we can modify or alter the way people might think, feel and ultimately behave in regards the new ERP system.
Part of the problem managers have, relates to the core of their own identity as managers! Because management is the science of keeping things stable and ‘functioning well’, any disruption or change, even those that are necessary, might trigger a level of resistance, even within the same team designing the change.
1. Our mind is not impartial, our intellect is biased, we are biased.
Our mind has established (often unconsciously) power relationships when defining reality, expressing concepts, and framing experiences. Basic assumptions, and taken-for-granted beliefs always operate in the background of our linear conscious system, which we know creates dualities (polarities) to define reality, and then assigns them value based on our own individual biases and cultural upbringing; therefore we are biased by design.
Examples of such biases would be where in business, we value thinking over emotions, leaders over managers, and managers over workers. We value safety over risk, predictability over uncertainty, control over chaos, and stability over change.
- The words and meanings we use are triggering a plausible upcoming experience toward that change.
As I mentioned earlier, the way in which managers and leaders talk about the change process has everything to do with the way the change is ultimately understood and acted on.
As a leader, pay attention to how you are using language to describe a new sales strategy or a new ERP system, because you are not only describing the process but framing it; as Tony Robbins states. “the words we attach to our experience become our experience”. You are the manager of meanings and your role is to create a shared meaning, and to collaborate in promoting the same understanding regarding the process of change.
Here are three tips to improve managing the change process:
1. Address the whole range of emotions that the change process is triggering: positive as the hope of something better, or negative as the anxiety that the uncertain encompasses.
In change management, the assumption is that planning can help us control the change process. The progression and results of changes are seen as predictable and controllable through good and detailed-logical planning. It is our rational and linear thinking (biased) that have depicted change management with logical-controlled steps!
If we want to significantly decrease the typical70% failure rates for change initiatives, then we need to address the emotionality and not only the rationality of the change effort, and we need to use words and meanings that convey a positive experience despite the complexity of the process.
My advice is that for those designing the process, addressing all emotional states of change is both strategic and tactical; first, we must listen and talk about the hope of success and the fear of failure, at all levels of the organization. Once we have, positively, been able to deconstruct the feelings towards change, then we move into the creation of the logical and rational change plan (i.e. the steps).
2. You are a manager that manages meanings and not only processes.
The words, you, as manager, use for the change process might convey different meanings. Frame the experience as positive as possible, try to make sure that people do not feel that change is being imposed on them. Create spaces for dialogue and participation. Leading change means leading meanings.
3. Remember that people do not resist change, they resist being changed.
Be authentic, frank and honest when describing the change process, but also be insightful and mindful on how the use of words are framing employees’ and/or customers’ forthcoming experience of it.