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What's In It For Me: Why Change Management Is More Than Just Communications

When we talk about change management, transformation, or really, engagement of any kind, at a fundamental level, we’re talking about leading people to change the way they do their work, think and/or behave. Quite literally, we are looking to rewire people’s brains, sometimes in the case of a major transformation, on a massive level. Think about that for a second and let it sink in. WE ARE REWIRING PEOPLE’S BRAINS.

But that’s not quite accurate. We can’t do the rewiring. Only they can. And we can’t force them to do it. We can only provide the information and conditions that make them want to do it themselves. Which brings me to What’s In It For Me (WIIFM).

A lot of times, when we talk about “change management”, we talk about improved communications around the change. This is fabulous and necessary, but only part of the equation. Based on some change communications I’ve seen (and probably some that I’ve written), we understand the notion of WIIFM, but aren’t that great at really getting there.

In the interest of trying to move quickly and get things done, we’ve taken on the parenting approach to WIIFM, by telling people “we know what’s good for you, and we’re telling you what that is. Now change.” Doesn’t work with kids, doesn’t work with grown-ups either.

We don’t get to decide what’s good for others. Only they know what that is. Our challenge as change leaders is to have meaningful conversations and draw that out. And whatever it is that they say, they’re not wrong. Because they’re commenting on reality as they see it. It may be different than how we see it, but they’re just as entitled to their view, as we are to ours.

Once we’ve succeeded in drawing out their view of things and understanding what they need and how they can benefit from a change, it’s then our job to look at the change initiative, and find out how those things can be addressed. We have to bend and change and adapt too, to create the best possible initiative for all involved. After all, usually change leaders are seeking outcomes, not process. So if an envisioned process has to be tweaked to benefit the people involved in order to achieve the desired outcome, then that’s what should be happening.

Once the change leader demonstrates that they are open and willing to listen and consider other points of view, and accept that their interpretation of reality is only one possible one, a few things happen:

  • They create an environment of trust and credibility, gaining necessary social capital to see through the parts of the change that may be more difficult to accept.

  • Employees feel as though they have a bit more control and more of a voice in how the change happens, which lowers stress and encourages engagement and innovation.

  • Through the diverse input of ideas and open consideration of those ideas, the change becomes more well thought out and likely to succeed.

This can’t just happen once. It’s a constant dialogue. If there’s a flash round of consultations that aren’t kept up, it will be seen as a one-shot and only done to keep up appearances.

This is why change management is more than just communications. Email blasts and town halls are great, they allow a leader to communicate their interpretation of reality to a large group of people, and share pertinent information. But people won’t really take that in, unless they are allowed to express their reality, have meaningful conversations about it, and know that change leaders really care about what’s in it for them.

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