Change Management: 4 Factors That Distinguish Successes From Failures

Change Management: 4 Factors That Distinguish Successes From Failures
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By Judith E. Glaser

Many MANAGEMENT GURUS, ACADEMICS and CEOs are writing on change, yet there is a difference between theory and actual change. If you are entrusted to make change happen, run a division, have a strategic HR role or are in the C-suite, think about what it takes to facilitate change. When successful change occurs, employees feel like authors not objects of change. They feel fully invested, accountable and energetic about the future, regardless of challenges.

Using Conversational Intelligence™, I've worked in change and transformation initiatives for over 20 years, since the concept of Change Management took hold. Many forward-thinking leaders were learning to "manage change," and consulting firms created change management services. Some approaches included a re-visioning process of rewriting the Vision, Values, Mission and Purpose (VVMP).

As well, many companies embarked on Re-engineering, Total Quality and Lean Manufacturing. However well intended, these approaches often failed. The energy behind many of these efforts, especially the VVMP, was a top-down compliance approach, where the senior team determined the new direction, strategies and mission, and told people where and when to march.

In some cases, after much effort, leaders would give up or lose energy. Some even found that people were despondent and disappointed. Yet there were successes. Let's point to four factors that distinguish successes from failures.

Scars from Change
Anyone who has tried to help companies and leaders change, probably has scars. The key to successful change is not being better commanders or lecturers. The key lies in understanding change from a brain-based perspective that focuses on how change is a process "we" do together, not one "I" do alone.

Change only happens when we are engaged with others in co-creating conversations, conversations full of discovery and questions that open our thinking. Only when our "brain-hardwiring changes" do we change.

Scar 1: Managing Resistance:
Resistance and skepticism accompany change. When you ask people to do things differently, they naturally resist, absorbed by the implications of the change in their lives. Sometimes we misinterpret this reluctance as a "no," and label them as recalcitrant.

Solution 1: Re-frame:
Stop trying to manage resistance and instead, accept resistance as a natural part of change. People need to challenge new ideas before they can accept them. For full ownership and accountability to occur, people need to feel attracted towards the change -- pull energy -- the opposite of yelling or telling, which is push energy.

To generate pull energy, ensure that they are involved as architects of the change through active participation. And have authentic dialogues (not Power Point presentations) about how, why and how fast to change rather than just being told to comply.

Scar 2: Underestimate the amount of conversations needed:
We underestimate people's need for dialogue in order to feel comfortable regarding the new changes. And, when stressed, people's mental acuity and processing circuitry closes down.

Fearful of the future, people listen for the implications of how change will affect them. Each person is having his or her own internal dialogue, and usually fear loss, rather than anticipate gain.

Solution 2: Changing mindsets:
Create forums where people can have open, candid conversations to learn what is going on and their place in the emerging social order. Transparency and openness transform fears into constructive strategies for success.

Scar 3: Change is head, heart and soul:
We often think that if we give employees the facts and explain why, economically, change needs to take place, that they will "buy into the change." We know from our work with clients that change brings emotion, and that logical facts fail to reach the limbic brain (the social emotional brain and the driver during change processes). We overestimate logic and underestimate the power of tapping into the emotions through the use of telling stories.

Solution 3: Storytelling:
A better alternative is to use storytelling and narrative to constructively engage people to make change happen. Story telling triggers the Head, Heart and Soul and causes us to "bond" rather than fight.

Oxytoxin is a hormone that causes us to bond with others in times of stress and change. Positive and uplifting storytelling actually increases the levels of oxytocin, which in turn creates uplifting and positive outcomes from the ensuing conversations. The fearful "I's" become "WE's." When this happens, a group becomes a strong team of individuals posed to work together to create change rather than be the objects of change. Narratives and story help unite all Heads, Hearts and Souls together, enabling a shared perspective and a new set of possibilities for the future.

Scar 4: Speed of change:
Often we want change to happen fast. With little patience in its process, we move quickly into convergent decision making. We've all seen Change Management programs that end in a new set of policies disseminated with the belief that "zapp" the culture will change or "shapeshift" into something new overnight. Proclamations and policy changes are not change-worthy practices for changes in DNA.

Solution 4: Navigational Communications:
Create conversational practices that enable people to co-create the future together. These conversations are not about a tell-sell-yell approach. This is navigating with others in and out of scenarios and alternatives from many perspectives to arrive at practices and rituals that "we" all embrace for how work gets done inside our culture.

Change Leaders who become Change Warriors successfully create conversational space for change, and reduce fears and threats. They help people find their place in the change process and look for how they can positively impact the future, enabling everyone to unite to shape the future.

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best selling business books, including her newest, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013) Visit;; or call 212-307-4386.

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