There is incredible power in language. As human beings we make sense of the world around us by giving things labels and no combination of six letters has the power to spike more fear than the word “change”. We are suspicious of the intentions behind it. We are unclear about the implications it has. We feel vulnerable about our role in it. It sends our imaginations into overdrive and speaks to our deepest insecurities. The irony is that nothing is constant. Evolution, growth, learning, innovation, exploration - all of these things require us to adapt, to attempt to do things differently. So how can we create an environment where we can engage with “change” without fear? How do we create a space where the word induces excitement rather than dread? I’ve been exploring these issues with leaders in several organisations recently and three key ideas have surfaced time and time again...
1. Replace The Label.
One of the biggest problems with change is the word itself. It is too all-encompassing. Too broad in scope. When we hear talk of a “change agenda” or a “change programme” we find it difficult to comprehend what it actually means. This uncertainty leads to speculation and a break down of trust. If we want people to accept change we need to make it specific. We need to break it down into it’s component parts rather than grouping elements together. If “cost rationalisation” really means “reducing the workforce by 10%” call it that. Change is never easy but by being vague we can make it bigger and more daunting than it actually is.
2. Make The “Why” Human.
Most people don’t get excited about “driving efficiency” or “optimising processes”. If we want people to do something differently we need them to understand and connect with the “why” behind our request. What is the higher purpose behind the change? What does it mean in real terms? To get motivated employees need to have a sense of purpose. To feel as if they are contributing to something worthwhile. The more you can humanise the reason behind the change the greater buy in you will achieve. How does what you are doing affect your employees, your customers and even the planet? When you paint a compelling picture of the future people are much more likely to move towards it.
3. Encourage The Conversation.
The worst thing we can do with fear is bottle it up. People are naturally uncertain when things change, so to make the process easier we need to encourage them to talk about it. Rather than trying to close down the conversation and move on, we need to encourage debate. A key skill for leaders at times of change is the ability to listen. They need to be able to hold that space of uncertainty for others and make them feel heard. Once fear has been articulated it quickly loses it’s power. The very act of voicing it helps us rationalise the emotion and move beyond it. Next time change comes up in conversation, lean in rather than pull back.
Change is always emotive and there is a clear cycle people need to go through before they accept it. For some people that cycle is quick, for others it can seem to take an age. One thing is clear though, change can never be over communicated. The more you can do to bring it into the open the easier it becomes.
How else have you broken the stigma surrounding this important topic? I’d love to hear what’s worked for you, so please share your ideas in the comments box below.