For anyone who has lived through, or led, large-scale change in today’s corporate environment, the notion that “people resist change” often stands as a taken-for-granted starting point for any discussion about how to catalyze or manage people through transition.

In fact, the most common change models are often loosely based on Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ Stages of Grief. From this mindset, organizations and leaders often feel compelled to create a “burning platform” to break through members’ denial that change is necessary in the first place.

This crisis-is-looming approach is designed to trigger urgency and a sense that change is important and inevitable–moving people along their “change curve” where we first expect them to react negatively (anger) and then resist or negotiate (bargain). From here, organizations engage in large-scale and often costly “change management” efforts designed to move people through depression at what is being lost and left behind so that they can come to accept the new direction as not-so-bad-after-all.

The image below (credit: 10-minuteHR) serves as a classic illustration of the “inevitable chaos” mentality with which many organizations approach any change effort.

 

Who wants to work in an organization where people cling to the past and then slowly resign themselves to a future they can put up with? No one I’ve worked with. If we take a hard look at the diagram above we can laugh at the stress, energy, and effort an approach like this demands of people and organizations, but yet it persists.

In my 20+ years of working in and with organizations in times of transition, I’ve found the death-and-dying approach to change particularly ineffective, both at galvanizing change in the first place, and at effectively ushering in new behaviors.

In reality, people embrace big changes eagerly all the time: we get married, have children, buy new cars or houses, take trips to far-away places, pick up and move for new jobs or opportunities far from home–we follow our passions. Why then do so few organizations tap into this force-for-good at work?

When true transformation occurs, it doesn’t tend to start out in fear and end in tired acceptance. Instead, it gets people collectively energized and excited at the outset, helps individuals see where they can contribute meaningfully, and creates space for real choices about how to make a difference in something that matters.

The most successful change efforts, and transformational leaders reliably tap into three things that are energy-giving:

  • Community: They connect people to something larger than themselves and create a felt sense of “being in it together.” When people feel a sense of belonging, bold bets are less scary, and their shared future is more exciting.
  • Contribution: They help people see how what they have to give will matter going forward. In my experience people fear some abstract notion of change much less than they fear a future where they are incompetent or irrelevant. When people see they can make a real difference, they get engaged.
  • Choice: People also don’t like feeling that things are being “done to” them, but rather that whatever the future holds, they have some degree of autonomy in shaping where and how they fit. This isn’t just a feel-good matter, either. Organizations that give its members a say in the future make smarter choices over the long haul.

While much of this is common sense and reflects a deeply shared human experience, it is still far from common practice. So, along with my colleagues at Conversant, I’m embarking on a 2-year journey to restore the heart of transformation and to put passion back at the core of vibrant, vital change.

If you have a change story (good or bad), I’d love to hear it, and if you’re intrigued by the idea of leading change efforts that energize and inspire, I’d love to talk…

Join the conversation below, or you can find this post on LinkedIn here.

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