Shaping Change by Managing Feelings

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A wonderful coach recently noted, “People don’t avoid change. They avoid pain.” She went on to stress that change management tools must consider change management behaviors— which are driven by underlying feelings and emotions.

How does change cause pain?  When an employee or organization is asked to change, it can threaten deeply seated needs, such as…

  • The need to feel confident and secure in existing roles and abilities
  • The need to feel powerful, and to know one’s place in the organization
  • The need to have control over one’s work
  • The need to stay connected with colleagues or clients

For example, a reorganization realigns a sales manager to a new region or market.  That manager may feel powerless, without a choice in how the change was made. The manager may be proud of the relationships built with clients over time and wonder if she has the right skills to rebuild those bridges in the new environment.

Too often, change management approaches rely on cognitive tools: on explaining the change and how it will benefit the organization or improve efficiency and metrics.  To truly change behaviors, though, managers need to start with the heart.  Your best change management tools, both in planning and executing change, are questions. Here are some examples.

  • What kind of changes around here would be exciting?
  • What opportunities do you see ahead?
  • How would you like to change what we do around here?
  • How are you feeling about the changes being discussed?
  • What would you like to know?
  • What do you most need right now?
  • What’s most important as we move forward?

The best change management approaches engage staff in these questions before any change is developed and decided. When that is not possible, questions to assess employee needs as the change unfolds will give you deeper insight about how to move from personal pain to power, and from organizational hope to success.

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