Change is Emotional

Warren G. Bennis said “In life, change is inevitable. In business, change is vital.” What he failed to add is that change is hard. It’s sticky and uncomfortable and stirs up all sorts of emotions. But within change is where growth happens. So why do we fight change so much in our professional lives? Because change feels personal. Regardless of whether it’s a business necessity, change is a highly personal experience for everyone involved. It feels like change is happening to us instead of with us. Change bubbles up emotions slowly, and as it unfolds, it can upset our understanding of the reality of things. So how do we take the emotion out of change?

Well, you can’t simply remove the feeling center of one’s brain. But, you can engage it. One of my favorite books about change management is also about getting the most from your team: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The Heath brothers describe the Elephant and the Rider as two parts of the brain that must be engaged in order to move through change successfully. The Elephant is our emotional brain, which has to be influenced and won over in the midst of change. The Rider, our rational side, holds the reigns in the midst of change, but must have the confidence of the Elephant and know the path. Often the Elephant and the Rider disagree because the connection between the heart and the mind often has them at odds with one another, especially in the midst of a change journey. This is where the Path becomes important.

Over my years of leading change efforts, I’ve found it incredibly valuable to carve the Path to change by utilizing a change model. Whether it’s a leadership or process change or a total organizational realignment, a change model helps remove some of the emotion the Elephant is feeling and gives the Rider a direction to follow. The ADKAR Model is easily accessible and one that meets the emotional needs of vision and reason for our emotional brain while clearly spelling out the actions that need to take place, and WHY, which appeases our rational brain. Backed by 20 years of research by Prosci, the model is based on the common – yet often overlooked – reality that organizational change only happens when individuals change.

Using a change model also has a forcing function within the business. When you begin laying out the depth and breadth of change being proposed, not only does it set some of the emotion aside, it serves as a gut check to ensure the change effort is truly valid and necessary. Resistance to change can also mean a lack of clarity in where the business is attempting to go. If going through the exercise of a change model results in resistance due to lack of clarity, perhaps you have reason to hit pause on those particular changes for the moment.

Today, every market force (customers, competitors, technology, regulations, distribution channels, suppliers, etc.) creates change. Therefore, every business is an ongoing source of change. It’s important to remember that change is a process, not an event, and it’s a highly emotional one at that. To be successful in implementing change, you must engage people at a human level and engage both the heart and the mind. Without engagement from both, the Rider may simply lead the Elephant in circles.

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