An overall approach to change management

May 1, 2004

There comes a point in any successful change movement when a great truth dawns on those involved: The inevitability and wisdom of the ongoing change is finally understood, and the new reality accepted. And what typically evokes this realization? Not hard data, nor a new process, nor an edict from above.

What best crystallizes and reinforces change is powerful imagery that appeals to the primal emotions within human nature. Consider some of the great changes in history, and the images associated with these events: American colonists dumping tea into Boston Harbor. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus. Neil Armstrong’s stroll on the moon. The fall of the Berlin Wall.

None of these scenarios added significant new information to the respective cases for war with England, equal rights under the law, the necessity of exploring space, or the end of the Cold War. But the images spoke to popular emotions with a power that reasoned debate can rarely evoke.

It’s accepted in politics, entertainment, government, the media, and industries like advertising that appealing to people’s emotions is essential to getting them to change behaviors. But business executives preparing their organizations for fundamental change generally struggle with accurately factoring human nature into the change equation.

"There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success or dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things."

— Niccolo Machiavelli

Conclusion: Providing a vision of a better day

Any transformation is brought to life by hundreds, even thousands, of frontline employees who deliver service to customers and perform other crucial jobs every day. A company can’t count on all of these professionals to envision what the organization will look like in the future, after the desire change has occurred. Management must instead supply the vision.

That vision should include how individual employees fit into the new organization, and what benefits will result from this evolution of their careers. Perhaps there will be challenging new duties or a flexible working schedule. Or maybe better training or educational opportunities. Even a chance to run a department.

If management can use powerful imagery to provide a credible vision of a better company, show the benefits that will result, and alleviate the inevitable human fear, anxiety, and discouragement during the transition, then the chances of implementing successful change will be greatly increased.


An overall approach to change management

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