Effective Organizational Change Requires Engagement and Empowerment

Which way do we go?

I’m still getting my head around what does and doesn’t work with organizational development and change.

After eight and half years of consulting at Velvet Chainsaw, one would think I would have figured out this change management stuff. But I haven’t.

I have more questions than answers. I have seeds of ideas in need of planting. So, here are some of my current thoughts about change and change management. I know my thoughts will continue to evolve as I refine how to support, foster and encourage change for the good of an organization and its customers.

Traditional, Well Established Change Management Beliefs

We live in a culture that believes the way to get buy-in and support for change is to plan a meeting. Call the leadership together, offer a strong case for the change, and then ask for commitment to implement the change.

It’s basically a sales strategy to influence others through logic and emotions. It’s all about presenting the best case with data and facts to support the change. Then sell it!

We think change happens because of our persuasive words. If it doesn’t work, we say we didn’t provide the strongest case or right data.

Sometimes we take a top down approach that forces change through mandates, incentives, and goals. Our belief is that strong leaders—whether in the C-suite, board room, committee or company offices, can guide and direct others to the necessary changes.

The Flaw In These Traditional Organization Change Methods

The sales method and top-down change mandates usually fail.

These approaches reflect our naiveté on the people and process side of organizational change. We are guilty for not understanding group dynamics. We are responsible for assuming that individuals do not need to initiate or own the change to advance the mission of the organization.

We are also culpable for believing we can tell people to change and they’ll do it. We lack an understanding of the mental and emotional processes individuals need regarding any change. We neglect that people need time to engage with and buy-in to any improvement process. They need to understand the why behind the changes so they can continue with forward movement.

We don’t spend enough time on the people side of the change equation. We leave that part to each department and their middle managers.

Content And Process For Change—Separate Or Connected?

We act as if content—the business case for the change–and process—the people side of processing the content and consequences of the change—are somehow two separate ideas. We feel as if content and process are at odds with each other competing for our time. We falsely assume that if we give too much time to process, content suffers. Or vice versa.

The tension we experience between content and process is a fool’s dilemma. We can’t choose between either. We need both!

Unfortunately, tradition, experience and our beliefs direct us to provide strong sales presentations to passive audiences with a focus on the content. We are over-confident that people will adopt these changes based on seeing the facts and rationale.

Brain imaging and psychological studies demonstrate that we may be on the wrong path by holding evidence up as an Ace card for adopting change says neuroscientist Tali Sharot. Reading the same set of facts often polarizes groups of people even further, because of our in-built confirmation biases she says.

So if information and facts are not the way to initiate buy-in for change, what is?

Start Here

Start by bringing a larger group of people to the table than you originally considered. Include all those that will be involved in the change says author Richard H. Axelrod.

Then have them explore their common motives states Sharot. Identifying shared goals is better than winning the data fight she adds. Get them empowered and engaged with owning the change to reach their goals.

To do this, ask people to work in small groups of two or three to identify motives and goals. Once identified, have them double the size of their group and continue exploring and identifying motives and goals.

As you engage people in the building the bridge to advance the organization’s mission and uncover common motives, they are likely to adopt and apply those changes to their individual routines.

Content, Process, Engagement, Empowerment: The Bones Of Change Management

Ultimately, we have to give adequate time to both content and process.

We must shift our thinking about change to one that includes bringing people together for authentic participation and interaction. As they discuss common motives and purposes, they are more likely to accept and embrace any changes that are needed to accomplish their shared-goals.

Want more information about current change management approaches? Read these:

What do you dislike most about mandated changes to your work? What causes you to buy-in to any necessary changes?

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