The approach you take to a change initiative such as the deployment of enterprise software tells a story to those affected. Consider what each of these comments reveals:
“If we didn’t do it quick enough, the person in charge of the project would send email to their boss, bosses’ boss, up to the CEO… ‘Are you kidding us? You really cc’d that to the CEO?’”
“We were never told what it is for and why it is… Intuitively understand that the shared drive cannot be continued to be used. There was never a meeting or analysis or anything, product was just put out there… There has never been a stand down or designated day to migrate content. No organizational commitment to get this done.”
“They did just an amazing job. It was the real key to the whole thing working for me. Sat down with us, created great structure. Before it was really tough. I wasn’t certain how and where to keep things. Now I feel so much more comfortable. So the company did something right.”
Different approaches tell very different stories
The story told by the first approach was “Our way or the high way. Do what we say, when we say, or you’re in trouble.”
The story told by the second approach was “Here it is, you figure it out.”
The story told by the third approach was “We’re partners. Together, we’ll get there.”
Different approaches trigger different emotional responses which then manifest themselves through stories that spread through water cooler conversations and alter the emotional fabric of your organization.
Telling without asking
Telling without asking, a traditional command and control approach to change, is seldom effective.
Telling without asking ignores the fact that there might be other truths and possibilities. Telling kicks in the confirmation bias, hardening people’s existing views. While you’re telling them how things are and must be, they’re arguing back with you (silently) using their own set facts, statistics and authorities that confirm why their view is right and yours is wrong.
Facts are always interpreted within the context of a story. And the story in their head is different than the story you’re trying to tell with your change effort.
Telling by asking
Telling by asking, on the other hand, leads both interviewer and interviewee to move beyond the selective facts that confirm each view to explore the stories, patterns, and frames within which the meaning of those facts may be reinterpreted. This opens up the possibility for a new story to form.
The way we talk and listen expresses our relationship with the world. When we fall into the trap of telling and of not listening we close ourselves off from being changed by the world and we limit ourselves to being able to change the world only by force. But when we talk and listen with an open mind and an open heart and an open spirit, we bring forth our better selves and a better world. - solving tough problems: an open way of talking, listening, and creating new realities. Adam Kahane
Interviewing those affected by a change tells the story that you care, that their experience is important, and that you are open to changing your approach based on what you hear. Each question you ask also tells its own story.
Each question prompts the interviewee to ask themselves: “Why that question?” “What would that mean?” “What are they going to do with the information?”
The answers they tell themselves become the story told by your question. And these stories will also spread through the water coolers of your organization.
Telling by asking is an adaptive approach to change.
Be agile and adapt
I don’t know if they’re committed to making it better. I’ve been crabbing about it for years. Now we’re getting a survey. Having this phone call. Will anything happen? I don’t know. Time will tell. The proof is in the pudding. Will they make any changes?
For this person, a survey and the interview from which this quote was taken were signs that change may be on the horizon.
Emotional due diligence isn’t a one-time activity. It’s an ongoing practice that enables you to be agile and adapt along with the shifting emotional landscape of your organization. And shift happens constantly with changes in people, products, teams, customers, policies, suppliers, regulations, priorities and technologies.
So think of yourself as an explorer charting the emotional landscape of your organization. Continue to update and refine the map as territories change, dragons are tamed, new dragons emerge… for the map, like your organization, is constantly shifting.
Whether threat or opportunity, the sooner you identify each dragon and adapt accordingly, the more successful your change effort will be.