Data and reason initiate most significant business changes, but it takes an emotional connection to carry them through to completion.
Change typically begins when a set of experts analyze business performance and conclude that the organization needs to become more competitive, innovative, cost-effective, safe, quality-conscious, or customer oriented in some combination and order of priority. Leaders evaluate those needs and translate them into activities that introduce change to employees.
In brief, companies use facts X to establish initiative Y in order to achieve result Z. The surprise in change management is how often we do the work of Y without getting the result Z. One of the biggest reasons for this disconnect is the organizational discomfort and skepticism around engaging employees through their emotions, especially in times of big change.
The brain science is conclusive. Emotions are as factual and relevant to your implementation as the economic data you used to identify challenges and initiate change in the first place.
Leverage emotions to create business success
The bottom line is that reason put you on the path, but emotions are the only way to reach your destination. Here are a few ways that you can account for emotions in your change effort and greatly increase your chance of success:
* Reinforce community rituals: Shared activity is shown to produce harmonizing feelings among participants, whether it’s an aerobics class or a prayer service. They also provide a kind of regularity that is comforting and predictable and that lends itself to endurance and resilience.
It’s odd that many companies don’t want to talk about ritual. It’s already there and happening in good institutions with strong positive cultures, but it is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. You see it in hospitals when the nurses conduct their pre-shift huddle, or when service representatives have their morning debrief in the call center.
* Invite, capture and share stories: Stories are the living vehicles for our values and behaviors. They introduce elements of emotion and ritual into otherwise sterile corporate initiatives in ways that bring them to life and make them more authentic, compelling and memorable.
Stories have the added benefit of bringing employee voices to bear on the corporate activity. Their involvement in the discussion brings energy and new ideas to the effort while at the same time encouraging acceptance of the change.
* Remind people of their better selves: when initiating change, it can seem natural to “brace” and prepare employees for tough times. There is some value in this and it is always important to avoid being overly optimistic in ways that might threaten your credibility when things really do get tough.
That said, the work of Dan Ariely and others shows that one of the better ways to get people to behave more altruistically is to remind them of their morality. Staying positive has the additional effect of keeping people inside the circle. Perceived negativity and criticism will eventually alienate employees. If you lose their good will, you will have substantially damaged any chances of success, and rebuilding trust is a long, slow and expensive process.