You know, I’ve occasionally caught myself saying ‘change is hard.’ I’ve recently seen an interesting new insight into the power of language during change or transformation. In an article on HBR.org, Nick Tasler discusses the negative bias we create when reinforcing that change is hard.
For decades, we’ve heard statistics about how infrequently change initiatives and transformation are successful. We hear that 70% of them fail. We hear that 50% of mergers don’t achieve their desired results. In addition, we’ve all had our own experiences with changes that have had varying degrees of success. The message this reinforces is that change must be really hard.
What Tasler argues is that part of the reason change is often not successful is that by saying it is ‘hard’ we are creating a negative bias that impacts the actual outcomes. He recommends that rather than focusing on the difficulty of change we should focus our messaging and conversations about the effort involved in change.
Let me give you an example. We all know that part of success in any endeavor comes from the effort you put in to it. Some pursuits are more difficult and require more effort than others. Completing a marathon takes more effort than jogging around the block (although for some of us, they both seem daunting). However, we usually believe something is achievable when we focus on putting in some effort rather than simply focusing on how difficult it is.
At NextBridge, we focus on helping our clients successfully change and transform. We help clients think about the effort needed for successful change and help them achieve it. I encourage you to think about change that is impacting you. Are you focusing on the difficulty or the effort?
When it’s the wrong type of loyalty.
We’ve talked in the past about the importance of building trust in leading change efforts. Change creates discomfort and disruption to the way people do things and how they interact with others – sometimes in profound ways. In short, it puts a strain on relationships, and therefore, on loyalty. And what does a leader under pressure to manage a significant change often do, almost reflexively? They try to leverage the loyalty of others.
There’s good news and bad news in this. Here’s the good news. The right kind of loyalty provides a solid foundation for the trust and leadership people are looking for from others during challenging situations. It makes it easier for a leader to convey the value of the change and enlist others in making it happen.
The bad news? It’s all too easy to misunderstand the nature of loyalty or to disregard the consequences of “fake loyalty.” You risk building a house of cards that falls apart under the high stakes and duress that change often brings.
You want to build the kind of solid relationships that allow you and your management team to build long-term change agility into your organization’s DNA. You want to avoid:
When you are a leader implementing change, ask yourself: how do I create buy-in and enhance loyalty? Have you and the organization helped people move through the change curve or have you tried to go from awareness to commitment in one giant step? We work with leaders every day to create loyalty and move people through the change curve. Read about one of our client’s results.
Over the past several years, this saying and many others about change have become trite. “Change is everywhere and to be successful you must embrace it.” “Change is the new normal.” “Champions eat change for breakfast.” You’ve heard it all before.
What is somewhat new about change is the sheer pace of it. With the advent of breakneck technology advances, change is not only constant but accelerating. Every few months a new social media outlet comes along that can help you reach your customers while you’re still trying to figure out Twitter. In other cases, some businesses are wondering if they should create an app for their services. Messages travel throughout your company, not to mention the world, in nanoseconds. Besides keeping up with all the technology, there are still the normal business changes like new product introductions, reorganizations, and new workflows. What do you have to know and how should you take a leadership position around change in today’s workplace?
Trying to promote change and innovation? Keep the end in mind with a robust, vivid, compelling vision that you keep front and center. It can unleash innovation and be a touchstone, barometer and guide for what and how things get done.
When you have a robust vision of the future, it opens up possibilities. Rather than closing down options, it can allow for change and innovation. With a robust and compelling vision, the focus becomes on achieving the vision — on moving forward — not just making the here and now more efficient or productive or less risky. It allows people to engage in creative thinking about how to get to that vision because ultimately there can be a wide variety of ways to achieve it. Without a vision:
The vision provides a road map for how something new or different is, indeed, not leading us into uncertainty but closer to the ultimate destination.
And it’s important that the vision not just be a statement that hangs on the wall. It needs to serve as a tool to guide conversations, to help make decisions, to determine how resources are allocated and to promote debate.
How are your vision helping promote change and innovation?
Is change breaking down your silos or creating more? Here’s what we know about change.
If this is the impact of uncertainty, what psychological incentive do you have to reach out of your comfort zone and breakdown the silos? How do you encourage collaboration?
Those of us that are of a certain age probably remember the ad ‘this is your brain on drugs’ with the egg sizzling in a frying pan. A very effective visual. You can argue whether it was an effective campaign.
There is a visual I’ve been using recently to help explain the neuroscience of change. Jonathan Haidt originally talked about it in The Happiness Hypothesis and it was made famous by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch.
Picture a rider and an elephant going down a path. The rider is the rational, thinking part of your brain. The elephant is the emotional part of your brain. The emotional brain is far older evolutionarily than the thinking brain. It is so old that some people refer to it as the reptilian brain. This is the area of the brain that responds to the environment. When danger is perceived, it triggers the flight or fight response. It is here that you determine whether you will take on the ‘danger’ or flee from it.
Under normal circumstances, it is surprisingly easy for the rider to control the elephant. The rider can guide the elephant down the path and make it comply to his or her wishes. Now introduce change. The brain perceives change as a potential danger. Why? Because it is uncertain, something we can’t predict, something that we have less control of than our current situation. And, with this potential danger, the emotional brain takes over. Think of an emotional elephant. One trying to decide whether to fight or flee what it has encountered on the path. How easy is it for the rider to control that elephant? The rider needs to put the rational aside and work with the emotion.
So, when you’re leading change, you need to make sure you are communicating to both the rider and the elephant. The rider needs to talk about what is happening, what the timeframe is, how it will be implemented, etc. The elephant needs to talk about the fact that change can be difficult and scary, it needs to have its emotions recognized, it needs to have an opportunity to vent its concerns and to replace the negative emotions with positive ones that allow it to move forward. Once the emotions are part of the conversation, the rider and elephant can begin working together again.
What do you think it takes to be a great change leader?
NextBridge partners with you to create and execute pragmatic, sustainable business solutions focused on building your organization and culture, developing talent and navigating change.