The Heart of Change

“Change” is a dirty word for some people. But love or hate it, change is here to stay, and every business owner and manager must be effective at leading their teams through both small and large changes. How do most managers manage change? Most successful managers I know are leftbrain, bottom-line, sequential problem solvers. They reached their leadership positions based more on their abilities to manage the numbers than manage people. Therefore, during times of organizational transitions, they naturally gravitate toward managing change from a rational, logical number-s based foundation. They reason: “We just need to get our people to understand the reasons for the changes—why we need to cut costs, decrease payroll, integrate a new software program, go digital, etc.”

Most employees, however, do not look at from an intellectual perspective. Yet they know (even if they don’t want to admit it) that things at work must and will change, not only for the company to survive but to grow and remain competitive. So for managers, it’s really not a question then of convincing employees of the need for change. Successful change managers understand that employees do not fear change. In fact, employees are constantly changing things around themselves all the time—hairstyles, hobbies, vacation destinations, and the restaurants they frequent. They change the shampoos they use, the clothes they wear (you hope), the cars they drive, and the homes in which they live. They even change their spouses!

For employees today, change is not about their heads—it’s all about their heart!

What most people fear is not the change itself but the potential losses associated with the change. For example, think about what an employee might “lost” if they are asked to change jobs within the company. They might lose daily contact with friends, a sense of security, comfort, familiarity, self-confidence, competence, power, prestige, influence, self-esteem, and even a future job loss if they fail in the new position. Or how about transitioning to new software? Your employees might feel a loss of competence (“I know how to use the old system.”) or a lost of prestige (“No one will come to me for answers now.”), or they might even feel a bit overwhelmed (“This is far more difficult to use than the old system.”).

Here is a powerful two-step model I teach leaders in how to better manage the heart of change.

First, when you see an employee struggling with a change, ask, ‘What hurts?” this question gets the personal side of change—the hurts—and away from the intellectual side of change—the reasons. Listen carefully to their answers. The employee will give you clues to the specific losses they fear.

Second, brainstorm with the employee-specific actions you can take together to minimize their fears of potential losses. It could be as simple as some additional training, an opportunity to talk to others who have already tried the change, or just more time to talk and think it through before implementing the change.

Remember, change is more about managing an employee’s heart than convincing the employee’s head.