Change is inevitable everywhere. As an old adage goes, the only constant thing in life is change. Sometimes change is voluntary for the betterment of ourselves, other times it becomes mandatory as part of a change beyond ourselves. Changing to a healthy lifestyle for staying healthy is a voluntary change. Whereas a large corporate restructuring is a mandatory one where leaders, managers and an individual have to adapt to it.

Generally speaking, people don’t like to change. All of us get into comfort zones of doing certain things repeatedly. Often, these behaviours, patterns and things we do, gets done by the unconscious mind and are influenced by these biases.

As a well-known case study, we all are familiar with the demonetization happened in November of 2016 in India. During this time, common people faced a lot of inconveniences to exchange the old currency notes and get new currency notes from Banks and ATMs. This change was unexpected and the way the change was managed led to major chaos, commotion and crowd uproar. I’m not saying whether demonetization is good or bad or whether the after effects were positive or negative. But this example is taken for us to understand how we could make a change process better, pleasing and lasting.

Why do we resist Change?

Learned helplessness is a psychological behaviour that occurs when people come to falsely believe they have no power to change. The more they perceive events as uncontrollable and unpredictable, the more pessimistic that they begin to feel about the potential for positive transformation. This false belief is one of the fundamental reason that leads people to resist and be pessimistic about a change.

There might be concerns that the costs of a change effort may exceed its benefits. This belief can lead us to the thought that the turmoil that’s created may actually lead to paralysis and ineffective functioning of day-to-day tasks.

Personal insecurities like loss of job or income can be another great hindrance that comes in the way to effective change management.

One other reason might be, if people mistrust the leader, then they are not willing to follow any changes suggested by the leader.

A Change that will embrace

When leaders embark on a change effort, they often conduct a great deal of analysis. They gather as much data as possible, examine different alternatives and cost-benefit analysis, develop plans and consider the consequences. But making transformation happen is more than just about the intellect and reason—it’s about managing emotions, too. If we truly want to persuade people throughout the organization, we have to do more than just show them the graphs, spreadsheets and data’s. We have to tap into their emotional side.

When a change is announced, people’s first response is what is in there for them with this new change, how I am going to be benefitted, is it something useful for me? When a yearly union budget is announced, every citizen will be looking forward to seeing how it’s going to affect him.

Managing emotions is one of the key factors for the success of how people will embrace a change. We must remember that knowledge alone doesn’t change behaviour and that we have to work to translate ambiguous goals into concrete behaviours. You also need to provide a short-term picture to people of how things will be better if they adopt some changes.

If a leader is able to clearly frame the change in a way that will emotionally charge up the people positively and show them that how the change is going to greatly benefit them over an organizational benefit, then he or she can get co-operative behaviour in implementing the change.

The Heath brothers’ model examines three fundamental processes for producing a change in terms of a rider (rational side) and an elephant (emotional side).

  • Direct the rider: Provide a simple, crystal-clear direction for the people.
  • Motivate the elephant: Motivate and engage their emotional side.
  • Shape the path: Make the environment more conducive to the transformation, changing behavior in the process.

Let me illustrate this point using an example from my life. 6 years back I was an obese person weighing around 95 Kgs. Many friends and relatives tried to advise me to lose weight and stay healthy but all of it had little impact on me. One day I visited a doctor with severe gastritis issue. That time, she advised me to do a thorough blood test. To my surprise, many of my blood results were not looking good. During further consultation with doctor, she told me “If you continue your lifestyle this way, in 5 years, you will be in deep trouble.”.

As the thought of fatality disturbed me, it changed my perceptive on my health as well. Over a period of 6 months, with small changes in my diet, exercise and lifestyle, I could lose around 30 kgs and the blood result after that looked perfectly normal. The emotional appeal from the doctor worked in me that sparked the change that was absolutely crucial.

A Change that will stick

More than making a change, making a change that will stick and be consistently followed is one of the biggest challenges in change management. Very often, bold changes don’t succeed, not because it wasn’t a good idea but it wasn’t institutionalized and wasn’t absorbed as part of the culture of the corporate.

To help ensure that a message will stick, the Heath brothers devised six principles — the first letter of each builds the word “SUCCESS”.

  • Simplicity: The simplicity of your message as you roll out a change will help ensure that it sticks.
  • Unexpectedness: An unexpected element can really grab people’s attention as you’re trying to get them to change.
  • Concreteness: Abstraction is the enemy of any change effort you have to make the concept real for people.
  • Credibility: Make sure your message is believable, especially to sceptics. Try to bring credible people who follow this or past success of a similar change.
  • Emotions: People are much more likely to act on their beliefs and feelings if they can connect with one person individually instead of thinking about mass numbers of people around the world.
  • Stories: A good story starts with context and setting, then has some sort of dramatic conflict, which is then resolved. Leaders should not underestimate the power of a story, they are important because they’re so compelling. We remember stories more than we remember lists.

Lastly, one of the most important piece in this puzzle for successful change management is the leader being the right model for a change to be visibly seen. If a leader is disconnected from the change and not seen as a person who is least affected in the change proposal, then most likely the change will be seen by its followers as hypocritical and ludicrous. A leader has to be consistent with his words and his actions. Any discrepancy between that will be evident in non-verbal cues such as body language. If the leader himself is not convinced or understood well the change plan, then it will be evident in verbal and non-verbal body languages.

Let me conclude this with a quote from John C. Maxwell.

Good leaders must communicate vision clearly, creatively, and continually. However, the vision doesn’t come alive until the leader models it.

John C Maxwell