One of the most challenging and uncomfortable things I've learned about change is that people often react not to the change itself, but to the meaning of it. As a result, they also give meaning, often unconsciously, to the actions of the change leader.
In practice, no matter how much thought, discovery, and analysis we put into creating a rational plan for change, the likelihood of success is determined not only by that plan, but also by how we manage the meaning associated with the change. Because it is important both the way in which the actions are perceived and the value of that goal towards which it is aimed, as well as the way in which they are appreciated and the degree of preparation for the actual change.
There are times when leaders of change represent hope, growth, learning and opportunity for a new future. At other times, they may represent a threat or risk to the status quo. Often they can be both in parallel leading to an ambivalent view of the change.
The meaning given to change and change leaders is very personal and highly dependent on the individual view of the world, the person’s tempo in the process of change and ultimately, their readiness for the change.
So if you're driving change and encountering obstacles or unexpected reactions, ask yourself:
- What potential meaning does the team/person attribute to this change?
- What do I represent to the team/this person as the change leader of this change?
- With this updated information, how can I help them explore these meanings further?
The answers to these questions can be easily observed in everyday conversations if we listen carefully. In the busy life of the organization, it's easy to miss subtle cues. The reflection time, how we choose to understand ourselves internally and understand others makes a significant difference. Sometimes we need to stop and look at what surrounds us, explore the small details, perspectives, players and energy.
We don't realize how much our environment matters and how little we give importance to the details that would help us see the world differently and perceive and lead change differently.
We can unleash new energy toward change by evolving existing meanings and stories. And the first step is to take some reflective time to explore the unknowns of change.