The Emotional Dimension of Managing Change

by David Carter
(Leeds, UK)

We read more and more about the emotional dimension of change - what does this mean in practise?

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William Bridges - Lost in Transition
by: Stephen Warrilow

Another aspect of the emotional dimension of change:-

One of the main points that William Bridges makes in his book "The Way of Transition " is that transition is not the same as change. Change is what happens to you. Transition is what you experience. And transition involves loss and letting go - typically of old familiar routines and ways of doing things, social identity, role identity, status, money and relationships.

Bridges sees the transition passing through 3 distinct phases:

(1) Ending, Losing, Letting Go - helping people come to terms with what they have lost and helping them prepare to move on

(2) The Neutral Zone - helping people through the readjustment and realignments - helping them find the path to follow

(3) The New Beginning - helping people develop the new identity, and their new role in the new order and energising them to new growth

Personally I take the view that at root, change management is about process and people. But even process is just about people doing stuff... so ultimately it's all about people - and processes that work for people.

Any organisational initiative that creates change - or has a significant change element to it - has a 70% chance of not achieving what was originally envisaged. In my experience, of the 3 main reasons for failure, the underlying cause is nearly always to do with senior management's failure to take full account of the impact of the changes on those people who are most affected by them i.e. the absence of good strategies for managing change.

Many thought leaders in the world of change management and change leadership are now speaking vociferously about the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership and the need to address the human dimension of change. For example:

- The Kubler Ross grief-cycle otherwise known as the "change roller coaster" which maps the emotional stages that people pass through in their transition through change.

- Daniel Goleman and others have stressed the importance of the leader's ability to articulate a message that resonates with their followers' emotional reality and their sense of purpose, and thus motivate them to move in a specific direction.

- John Kotter says that the single biggest challenge facing leadership in a change process is just getting people to change their behaviour - and that happens... "When they are motivated to do so, and that happens when you speak to their feelings."

- Jon Katzenbach highlights the value of personalising the workplace and making and demonstrating a personal commitment by getting involved and truly understanding what your staff is doing on a daily basis.

- Andy Pearson emphasises how people will respond to their leaders efforts to connect with their emotional side: "Great leaders find a balance between getting results and how they get them."

So to summarise, in Bridges' own words:

"A change can work only if the people affected by it can get through the transition it causes successfully."

John Kotter - Making Change Real - The Heart of Change
by: Stephen Warrilow

In "Making Change Real - The Heart of Change":
Kotter says that the single biggest challenge facing leadership in a change process is just getting people to change their behaviour:

"All through our lives we have been taught to over-rely on what you might call the memo approach - the 19 logical reasons to change - and we've under-relied on what Dan Cohen and I found is much more effective, which is presenting something that is emotionally compelling. People change their behaviour when they are motivated to do so, and that happens when you speak to their feelings."

3 key points emerge from their review of companies who have followed Kotter's eight-step approach to change management and succeeded with their change initiatives.

(1) Great change leaders are great at telling visual stories with high emotional impact

Martin Luther King did not stand up in front of the Lincoln Memorial and say "I have a great strategy" and illustrate it with 10 good reasons why it was a good strategy. He said those immortal words: "I have a dream," and then he proceeded to show the people what his dream was - he illustrated his picture of the future and did so in a way that had high emotional impact.

(2) The leader's example is a powerful method of communicating feeling and facilitating change

To paraphrase one of the sayings of Jesus: "Why do you look at the speck of dust that is in the other guy's eye, but not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

According to Kotter this is a big issue. He feels that as people climb further up the corporate ladder they become increasingly out of touch with the impact of their own performance until they cannot see that they have become a part of the problem. As he says: "I suspect a lot of people just haven't been taught, always start with yourself. It is a great rule of thumb for so many things. Start with yourself first!"

(3) Organizations need heroes at every level

As one of David Bowie's greatest singles puts it: "...I will be king and you, you will be queen...we can be heroes, just for one day". Kotter believes that buried very deep within everyone is the desire to be a hero [even if for only one day]: "...today's organizations need heroes at every level. To truly succeed in a turbulent world, more than half the workforce needs to step up to the plate in some arena and provide change leadership."

In echo of Bowie's lyric he suggests that this might only mean being a hero for one day, but he stresses that the cumulative effect of many such small actions is a significant factor in enabling organisations to change.

When asked, in a recent interview, about the importance of leadership in successfully unleashing "the heart of change", Kotter said: "Crucial. Only leadership can blast through corporate inertia and motivate people to change in a meaningful way".


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