Implement Organizational Changes Through Conversation

Organizations often struggle with change.  There is a human side to change that is often overlooked or underestimated and companies face true challenges when trying to implement real change. 

Change initiatives should not be rolled out or emailed to the organization without consensus – if you take this approach, employee buy-in at all levels is difficult. A key component to implementing new ideas and initiatives are conversational based change management tools.  

Conversation based change management is a model that engages all levels of employees to lead the way to change and new ways of thinking about change initiatives.  These approaches should not be overlooked and can be the most powerful tools when launching new programs.  One interesting approach I just read about is a book by Sara Lewis and Jonathan Passmore – called “Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management”. 

Organizations act on emotion just like the individuals who start, run, and work the business.  Changing one part of the company has a ripple affect across the whole enterprise.  For example outsourcing one function will affect the whole corporate enterprise and how it engages with the new outsourced function.

Appreciative Inquiry is an alternative approach to change management and is a powerful tool.  The end goal should be to inspire employees to embrace change initiatives through passion and purpose not reward and penalties; which emphasizes productivity and suppress emotions.  The policing, reward and penalty approach to change often neglects the employees’ emotional, social and creative abilities.   Appreciative Inquiry leverages the human innate desire to talk, feel emotions and share with others.  Conversational change management tools empower employees to embrace change through conversations, emotions and creativity.

Policing a new initiatives is really based on criticism when the new guidelines are not followed.  But if you want to manage people through change – we should look for opportunities to praise them. This doesn’t mean we should not address problems with them but it allows us to do so with the balance of good and bad. This approach utilizes appreciation and not criticism to guide organizational change. 

Imagine you are about to launch a 4 day interview event with over 100 candidates scheduled to interview in an effort to ramp up the commercial sales organization for a new product launch.  When you arrive at the venue you discover that the materials are not there and the room layout is not what you requested.  One approach is to complain to the venue staffers and demand the changes immediately – this approach will set the tone for the rest of the 4 days.  You complain and things get done but they get done begrudgingly and with minimal effort.  An alternative approach is to first compliment the staff on what is done right - like the menu for lunches and the layout of certain aspects of the event.  You still address the issue that need to be resolved but with providing the staff with recognition on the things that work well. You combine your concerns with a balance of good and bad feedback and use this approach over the next few days and realize that the staff is more responsive and things are improving dramatically. 

Talking has an impact - your words as a change agent sets the stage for change.  When you combine and balance the impact of conversation with the power of gratitude – you are using Appreciative Inquiry. 

Conversation based change management may be difficult to accomplish with in your organization due to the culture or the way things have always been done.  Consider what and why we need to change, what are the company goals, and what are the resources you and your team will need to implement an Appreciative Inquiry approach to change management. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Document the need for change and your objectives.  Define the objectives relatively loosely at first to leave an open forum for discussion.  Set positive goals and milestones so employees will want to work on them.  Develop the opportunities to discuss the new objectives with all levels of the organization and create the environment where all opinions count.  This will allow you to accomplish your objectives and goal while understanding the pulse of the organization.

Once you have identified the objectives and set the goal – describe the project clearly to ensure common understanding.  When these preliminary steps are completed, bring all the relevant parties together and explore the four dimensions of Appreciative Inquiry.

  1. First is Discovery: conduct share holder focus groups where the individuals interview each other and discus the current state – what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change. Document all the trends and themes that come from these conversations.
  2. Second is Dream: Assemble another round of interviews where the focus this time is to discuss the possibilities for a future state. Then link the dreams to the organizational goals.
  3. Third is Design: Organize the stakeholders into groups to discuss turning the dreams into realities. Have the teams document their vision of the future that describe the desired outcomes as if they were already in place – what would be the impact on the organization.
  4. The Fourth is Destiny: Turn the testimonials into action items. Each team/stakeholder can be then empowered to execute the dreams and change initiatives they want to achieve to reach the common goal. 

Encourage the use of story telling as a discussion technique.  A story is always one persons perspective on what happened.  This effort will open up multiple perspectives on different versions of events, which in turn creates more discussion and creates more opportunities for change. Keep an account of the stories that hit a cord with the team members as these accounts can offer clues regarding the best path to take in the effort to implement your change initiatives. 

Recognize the power of conversations and the feelings it can produce, including fear and resistance.  Approach these conversations as a facilitator and never become the focus of attention.  You can’t predict the reaction to any question.  No particular way of asking can guarantee getting the info you need.  Try a variety of types of questions to illicit the answer you seek. 

Always listen to the teams’ conversations and try to adopt and reflect their language when guiding the discussions.  Try to understand their challenges and issues with change and mirror them back to the teams so they are aware that you are paying attention and respect their opinion.

If you try an implement a more inclusive, collaborative and conversation approach to implementing organizational change; you will not only be more successful in a shorter period of time but you will have more buy-in and support from the organization’s team members.   This creates a greater success and impact to the whole organizational enterprise implementing and embracing change initiatives.

I guess the old saying is true – you really can catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

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