Stakeholders are people too: The importance of emotion in change management
I’ve recently been working on a comms and engagement strategy for a major change programme and have been a little taken aback by how much emphasis is placed on 'on paper' structures and hierarchies.
Apparently I’m a bit of a maverick, because I care as much about what Beryl on reception thinks about the change as I do about the guy bankrolling the project, even though she doesn't appear on the organogram.
Now, I’m perfectly aware of the constant struggle between cuddly comms and the Lean Sigma process ninjas. Of course, I want to know where people sit in the hierarchy. But I’m more interested in understanding why they might be resistant to change and whether that’s a blocker better engagement and communications can remove.
I always frame any engagement strategy, whether it’s for a consumer brand or an employer, in terms of ‘think, feel and do’ – both in inputs and outputs. And I generally find that ‘feel’ packs a far bigger punch, especially in the early days of a change programme.
People are emotional creatures (even when it comes to spreadsheets and databases), and while structure and consistent documentation is essential, it’s amazing what you can find out about your business just by letting people bare their souls. Their hostility might not be anything to do with changes to shift patterns and all about the lack of free milk in the office fridge.
I’ve worked in businesses where the most senior members of the team have the most influence on paper, but next to none in real life. Where the guy who delivers the post while spouting the most cringe-worthy stories about your business becomes your greatest advocate.
True engagement comes when you strike the perfect balance between structure and soul, facts and folklore, capability and character.
Take capability and character. Their capability will allow them to adapt to change and carry on running your business, barely missing a key stroke. Because, let’s face it, learning how to work with different tech and processes is just part of life these days.
But appealing to their character is what’s going to see you right in the long term. If you can appeal to the values they hold most dear on a rational and emotional level, then – and only then – will they believe in the change, in your ambitions, and in you.
And that’s something you just can’t find in a spreadsheet.
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