Leading Change By Targeting Mindsets (and Hearts)

By Nic Tsangarakis

Every organization needs to continuously adapt to its business environment. Naturally, responding to external changes requires internal changes, and these changes can range from incremental to transformational. Achieving sustainable change is hard. Arguably the single biggest challenge in achieving change is changing people’s behaviour.

Think, Feel, Change
People change what they do not only because they are given information that can shift their thinking, but also because they participate in experiences that influence their feelings. Both thinking and feeling are important and necessary. During change, the aim is to evoke feelings related to urgency, optimism and belief—while reducing uncertainty, complacency, cynicism and fear.

Leading change in a way that targets both the minds (analysis) and the hearts (emotions) of those involved greatly enhances the probability that organizational change will be successful.

Five Actions to Changing Behaviour
In working with our clients in designing change programs, we introduce five actions that lead to achieving desirable behaviour change. We start by looking at the changes the client has implemented in the last few years. These are then categorized into two categories: “successful” and “less successful.”  What we (and the client) notice is that the greater the number of these five actions implemented, the more successful the change. This is not to say that all the actions must have been implemented, but the more the better.
What then are the five actions?

Action 1: Understanding the “Why”
People need to understand the reasons for the change. A feeling of urgency must be created so that employees understand (at an intellectual and visceral level) that things need to be different in the future and that personal shifts and adjustments are required.

Below are few tips on what can be done:

  • Incorporate appropriate information about the organization’s market and competitive realities, weaknesses, threats, and/or opportunities in establishing the need for the change initiative;
  • Use data from customer satisfaction surveys, employee engagement measures, budget, productivity, process cycle time, etc. to explain the change; and
  • Show people the need for change with a visually-compelling, attention-grabbing and memorable experience that they can ideally see and feel.

Action 2: Create a Vision
We recently worked with the leaders of a medium-sized law firm to build a desired future for their organization than can be used to guide every employee’s action and decisions. The vision (which has a three-year timeframe) describes their desired future state in very specific terms. It outlines goals that require stretch, but offer achievable outcomes that they want to implement.

Guidelines for taking action in this area include:

  • Create a vision of the future that is so vivid and compelling that it appeals to both the hearts (emotions) and minds (logic) of those whom need to be influenced;
  • Do a gap analysis, by illustrating that current reality is different from the future state; and
  • Formulate associated strategies bold enough to make the vision a reality.

Action 3: Role Model the Desired Changes
Leaders must walk the talk. They need to consistently role model the desired mindset and behaviours required. Leaders (at all levels) must communicate the vision and strategies so well that they create both understanding and gut-level buy-in.

Here are a few tips on what leaders can do:

  • Be self-aware (ask for honest and frank feedback) of the discrepancies between what is being espoused and the decisions / actions taken;
  • Create mechanisms for frequent two-way communication and dialogue and keeping communication simple and heartfelt, not complex and technocratic; and
  • Use metaphors and analogies to create images that will help the understanding and acceptance of the change.

Action 4: Create Short-term Wins
Sometimes referred to as “the low-hanging fruit”, quick wins build momentum for the effort. One of our clients (a post-secondary education organization) decided on a number of longer-term strategies that will transform their institution, but they also carefully planned for shorter-term wins to energize stakeholders. For example, they planned to keep track of and proactively publish a handful of measures that clearly indicate progress made.

Actions you can take include:

  • Plan for early wins that come fast, easily and cheaply (even if they seem small compared to the bigger vision); and
  • Make them as visible as possible to as many people as possible.

Action 5: Empower Action by Everyone
Finding ways to bring vision and strategy to people’s daily work creates the conditions for people to take action on the right things. A top-down leadership approach is augmented with a bottom-up approach where autonomy and self-directed action occurs.
Here are guidelines for what can be done:

  • Provide feedback and coaching that can help people make better vision-related decisions;
  • Directly address the people who continue to undercut the change; and
  • Provide recognition / appreciation (and if possible, reward systems) that inspire, promote optimism, and build self-confidence  to take action throughout the organization.

Take Five to Thrive
These steps are designed to enable organizations to touch both minds and hearts. Regardless of how many of them you apply, remember that they must complement each other and be aligned with the organizational context.

Making the change successfully requires sticking relentlessly to the process and tenaciously reviewing progress made on these five actions, as well as embedding the desired behaviour into the cultural fabric of the organization.

Nic Tsangarakis is co-founder and principal of Kwela Leadership & Talent Management.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2016)

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