Change and the importance of feelings


It feels as though change is in the air as we get into the swing of 2019, starting with the very personal, as some special friends head overseas to start exciting new ventures.

New year’s resolutions have come and in many instances gone, and summer holidays are behind us. Many people are returning to busy workloads, jam-packed ‘transformation’ agendas and a healthy dose of uncertainty.

We’re waiting to see what happens with our local economy and several Royal Commissions, there are two elections on the horizon in Australia, the future of work is arriving, new leaders are on their way, and where does one start with the uncertainty being experienced around the globe.

Organisations experiencing major change tend to devote huge amounts of time, energy and resources to the many rational elements involved. Teams lock themselves away working on new strategies and policies, allocating budgets and preparing detailed plans.

All of this activity is important, but it’s only effective if we also understand and respond to the non-rational elements at play. How are people feeling about what’s happening? How do they perceive the identity of the organisation and where they now fit? What are their hopes and fears? How are they really coping with ambiguity?

So where is the best place to start as you explore and plan for the non-rational in 2019?

  • Start with you. Explore your own triggers when it comes to change. What energises you? What unsettles you? Remember that how you feel about any change is completely within your power. You’re in the driver’s seat. Think carefully about your language and how it’s impacting you and others. Test how aligned you are to your organisation or whether it’s time for a career change.
  • Bring people together. Talk about how they are feeling about changes on the horizon and the organisation’s identity. Avoid the temptation to over-facilitate conversations. Encourage people to share freely and to talk about how they would like to be supported during the change process.
  • Analyse the gap. Is there a gap between an organisation’s espoused values (the behaviours it says it values), and its lived values (those we actually see in action)? Are we seeing respect, collaboration and fun, or have they been replaced with hostility, selfishness and pessimism? Use formal and informal methods of understanding the gap, including conversations, workshops and pulse checks. You can then consider ways to address how people are feeling and the non-rational (and potentially negative) elements at play.
  • Craft a compelling story. A compelling story can be a much more powerful way to draw together the various threads of your change initiative. It should explain where the organisation is heading and why, the context in which it is operating, and how the organisation plans to respond to its major challenges and opportunities. The language should be simple and clear. A common story and language helps individuals share their experiences and overcome roadblocks together.
  • Encourage people to keep reflecting. Consider using a theory such as Claes Janssen’s Four Rooms of Change® to help people to reflect on how they respond to change. Organisational development expert Marvin Weisbord describes the Four Rooms of Change® as “an enormously effective way of freeing people to experience whatever is going on.” Participants create the theory in the room, enabling them to understand each of the four states of mind – Contentment, Self-Censorship, Confusion and Inspiration. They learn how they can influence the change process by taking responsibility for their feelings and actions. Individuals will not change unless they understand and own their responses to change.

And remember, openness goes a long way. If a particular change is going to hurt, why don’t we just say so? People can handle the truth. They don’t respect or respond well to sugar-coating. Let’s commit to being honest and respectful of people’s intelligence and feelings in 2019.