Most leaders I know have a degree of comfort talking about the nuts and bolts of change – things like what’s going to change, what process is being put in place to make it happen, and when it will happen. This article shifts the focus from “what the change is” to “how are we doing with it?” That makes most leaders a lot more uncomfortable.
However, don’t despair. There’s a structured approach you can use with your team to discuss how change is affecting them and how they, in turn, can affect change. It’s called The Listening Post.
Here’s an excerpt from my 2019 article “5 Ways to Help Your Team Be Open to Change” that originally appeared in the April 3 edition of Harvard Business Review online.
Change stirs up emotional responses that often cause people to pull back rather than to lean in. Inspiring and enabling your team to affect change requires having conversations that move people from reaction to action. Try having 30-minute meetings to discuss both the emotions related to change and the actions participants can take to affect change. I call these “listening posts.” Listening posts were originally facilities that monitored radio and microwave signals to analyze their content. Like that original definition, your listening post can help you understand key information, and can help others take action. Listening posts consist of:
- Table setting: Define the purpose of the meeting for your team. Encourage them to discuss how change is affecting them. For example, “We’re here to talk about the change we are experiencing and understand how it’s impacting you personally and us as a team.” Invite everyone to define actions that the group will take to influence how change is happening.
- Listening: Encourage individuals to start the conversation by sharing their experiences by using metaphors or adjectives. This gives them a safe way to talk about emotions. Share your metaphor first to break the ice. For example, you may feel like a juggler trying to keep all the balls in the air. Share that with your team. As people share their metaphors, remember to listen for who is dissenting or significantly challenged by the change. The voice of the outlier can provide key insights.
- Consolidating: Ask the team what common themes they are hearing. Use questions like, “What does it seem like we all have in common? What is different for each of us?” Summarize key themes and confirm what you’ve heard.
- Acting: Identify actions. These ideas need to come from the team, with you as the facilitator. Ask questions like, “What do we control, or can we influence?” “How do we want to change this?” “What role will each of you play in making this happen?”
Two things to keep in mind about this approach:
1) Your honesty and candor about change will set the tone for this conversation.If your metaphor is that you are skating on smooth ice, your team will not feel like they can share their challenges and real feelings. If you are completely on-board and having an easy time of it, save your metaphor for last.
2) When talking about actions, be neutral in how you discuss any corporate mandates. Phrase them in terms of what is controllable and how your team can make decisions that affect change. For example, if people are frustrated by the change in priorities from the organization, you can say something like “Yes, the organization is shifting priorities based on what they see as critical business needs. We can’t change that. What we can decide is how we will shift our work to support those priorities. Let’s review what we have on our plates right now and make some decisions.” This response reaffirms that everyone does have some control in this situation and enables the team to make decisions about how they can move forward.
Would love to hear how you engage your teams in dialogue to move them from reacting to change to acting to make change. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.