3 Questions That Must Be Answered To Lead Change

Change is the one constant in life. Even as you read this, your body, your company, and the world around you are changing - some for the better and some for worse. To lead healthy lives and healthy organizations, we have to be capable of leading change. It’s a requirement.

For change to occur for any individual or group requires the engagement of the head, heart, and path. The head is our intellect. If change doesn’t make sense to us, we will resist it. Even more significant is the heart, or our emotions. In the Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt compares our emotions to an elephant and our intellect to its rider. While we like to believe we are purely rational beings capable of reaching the best solution after proper analysis, our emotions will ultimately override our intellect. Last, we have to practically understand how to change. This path offers guidance, helping us take our first steps and keeping us on the right track since we are prone to wander. I highly recommend Dan & Chip Heath’s book Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard which dives more fully into these concepts.

A necessary change has been identified to ensure the health of your organization. Next, you have to create a compelling vision for the change.

The three critical questions we have to answer:

  • Why does this change make sense?
  • What emotional pain is lurking and what dreams can be obtained?
  • What are the steps and safeguards to help us get there?

Let’s illustrate through a relatively benign change like upgrading to a new accounting system.

Why does this change make sense?

Here we need to gather good facts to illustrate why maintaining the status quo is no longer an ideal option. Using the accounting system example, information that points to the current software no longer being supported, the new software providing better real-time data to monitor success, and ease of system use are all helpful. Even if the facts make it seem like a change is a no-brainer, it’s not enough to succeed at making a change. People make choices everyday that go against the facts. Why? Because we prefer to do what feels good.

What emotional pain is lurking and dreams can be obtained?

To answer this question we have to put ourselves in other people's shoes. Back to our example, a lurking pain could be that while the current system might be clunky, it “works.” This is actually about fear of the unknown. Additionally, some may feel maxed out, and learning a new system likely means more long hours and less time with their family. As leaders, we need to paint a picture for others that helps them overcome these emotions and motivates them with the good that can be obtained. Touch on how the new system brings more efficiency, leading to more time with the family. If the current system stops working, what headaches will result that are worse than what people are currently experiencing? Of course, this is challenging because different people will have different answers. As leaders, we have to consider all the ramifications to paint a picture of the future that is desired. Even if the facts line up and there’s emotional desire, this still isn’t enough to overcome the momentum of our current habits. That’s where helping people see around the corner by establishing the path comes in.

What are the steps and safeguards to help us change?

Elements of the path could include things like training, running with both systems for a time, reducing workload in other areas to create more margin, weekly engagement with the new system to build new habits, and celebrating progress. We can help people navigate uncertainty by offering them more clarity on what they can expect and when. This is the genius of something like the Apple Watch for exercise. It offers encouragement, prompts, and feedback to help someone change their health habits. The same idea can be applied to any change we are looking to achieve.

The final step in the process of leading change is to remind, reassure, and reimagine. Remind people of the facts, the emotional reasons, and the steps they’ll take to get there. Reassure them that while the change might feel difficult or clunky, progress is being made. Last, continue to reimagine the future together in which the company, employee, and customer experience greater good and celebrate wins along the way. You will have to communicate this more than you think but you’ll create lasting change. Every time you facilitate healthy change your leadership capital will increase because you will gain trust. That increased trust combined with a repeatable change process will position you for continued success in the future.

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