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Part 1 -Re-designing Change Management Models for Humans

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Same ole change management models, same ole result.

As a catalyst for innovation (aka change), my first thought for this post was discussing how current change management models could be improved with design thinking. I felt I could be of service on the topic and that was the original goal of this post. While I find change exhilarating, many people find it extremely stressful. Fear, along with its twin, resistance make change a nearly impossible hurdle for organizations. My review of the eight most popular models for change management gave me a clear understanding of why 70% of all change initiatives fail.

Furthermore, in this age of innovation, it's insane to think that the most popular model (Lewin's) heralds back to 1940!! Not to mention, the latest theory (Satir) created in 2006 is over a decade old and is nothing more than applying emotional stages of grief to performance. Even if you're still using the Nintendo wand (also a 2006 creation) and a fan of all things vintage, the 70% failure rate creates a palpable uncertainty for leaders. Faced with the challenge of change or die, they press on. Indeed, it's better to use outdated and ineffective models than do nothing. Instinctively, they know if they change nothing, nothing will change. Indeed, it's better to die trying, than to die not having tried.

In light of these facts, my goal for this post went from infusing existing change management with design thinking to creating a new model. A new human-centered organizational innovation model to bring change management into the 21st century. Re-designing change management models with humans in mind.

A look at existing models.

Ultimately, I consider it my service to leaders to bring the tools and insights that positively impact the change they desire to create. To be useful, it helps to understand why the old models fail. To this end, I will present what I see as the glaring problem with existing models.

In summary, this quote by Frank Chimero reveals the crux of the problem:

People ignore design that ignores people. -Frank Chimero

In a nutshell, current models ignore the very people who are impacted the greatest and expected to carry the change forward - the mid-level managers and employees. Managers and employees are directly connected to serving customers. In essence, it's their service that positively or negatively impacts profits. How are employees and managers alike ignored? It starts and ends with one major problem - FEAR.

Fear - the emotional emergency brake for change.

As humans, we each have a scale of roughly 22 emotions ranging from fear to joy. Feelings of fear leave us stuck while a sense of joy excites us and gets us moving. In a perfect world, everyone would exercise emotional intelligence, be unaffected by emotions, or at a minimum be self-aware and responsible for improving their feelings. Unfortunately, it's not a perfect world, and there are several aspects of existing models that are manipulative or disempowering rather than motivating. Some are intentional and some are unintentional. And several manipulative in the wrong direction! Regardless of the origins of fear, fear is the emotional emergency brake for change.

Let's take for instance the word change itself. What emotions come to mind when you hear the word change?

Change (verb): to make the form, nature, content or future course something different from what it is or would be if left alone.

Specifically, changes are coming to our company. Harvard Business Review Research reveals that change brings up feelings of loss of control, uncertainty, concern about competence, and more. In a single word change breeds fear - and lots of it! And even leaders are not immune to this lowest of emotions. Leaders fear criticism, failure of making the wrong decision, and fear for their jobs if performance doesn't improve. Fear is the most depressed on the emotional scale, and it's as far as you can get from joy. In essence, companies smash the emergency brake, shift the car in drive, and expect to race across the finish line and win the race. It just doesn't work.

Understanding the disempowering emotion of fear created in existing models.

Overall existing models start in this lowest of emotions (fear) and often continue to breed more fear. It's no wonder, so many initiatives fail when the launch begins with feelings in the negative territory of fear! Moving through all the negative emotions (powerlessness, insecurity, doubt, worry, rage) up into the area of positivity (contentment, belief, hopefulness, eagerness, empowerment, etc.) is a daunting task (if not impossible) for one individual much less hundreds or thousands of employees. The collective energy of fear is useless in affecting change. At the very least it's not motivating. And a key ingredient necessary to make change successful is motivation. Tomorrow, in part two, we will dive deeper into how companies can start their initiatives in the positive emotional territory — thus making it easier to create motivation and maintain the momentum needed to finish successfully.

The purpose of this blog is not to throw out all the prior models but to identify the steps in each model that induce fear (aka resistance). Each of the previous models has been a success in its own right, and many have useful steps for change. Specifically, we want to look at what's manipulative, de-motivating, or at the very least disempowering to successful change within your company. It's in eliminating the ineffective and adding the practical tools of design thinking that we can begin to create a more empowering and effective model.

Established in 1940, Lewin's model has three phases. Unfreeze - Change - Freeze. The model is briefly described as: "if you have a large cube of ice but realize that what you want is a cone of ice, what do you do? First, you must melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you must mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you must solidify the new shape (refreeze)." One thing (the main thing) this model overlooks is we are talking about people, not ice. This breakdown is akin to concentration camps and stripping people of their beliefs, values, and habits. In general, concentration camps yield three types of people: dead, those that go along to get along, and those who escape or die trying.

Negatives impacting motivation:

  1. Management by fear

  2. Promotes change then listen vs. listen then change

  3. Doesn't seek to gain employee enthusiasm until the refreezing stage

Leadership is not wielding authority - it's empowering people. -Becky Brodin

And, in my opinion, the model begs the question why the heck are we refreezing anyway? In this innovation age that our world is currently in, it seems more important that we stay engaged and agile than seek to refreeze.

Established in 1991. The Bridges Transition Model is similar to Lewin's (though not as inhumane) in that it has three phases. 1. Ending, losing, and letting go 2. The neutral zone 3. The new beginning. The model is adept at recognizing all the negative emotions and processes people go through but still starts change at ground zero - fear. And has little advice beyond hand-holding for getting employees through the challenges of change. In my leadership experience, hand-holding ranks among the least effective strategies for empowering employees. Also, in light of the expanse of leadership responsibilities, it also reduces leadership effectiveness. It's patronizing for employees and leaders don't have the time to do it.

Established in 1982. This model invites users to analyze 7-S's (Strategy, Structure, Systems, Shared Values, Style, Staff, and Skills) against the company mission. This model is a useful checklist for identifying what needs to change. However, by no means does it outline how companies create successful change.

Negatives impacts on motivation:

  1. Without usual "how" steps, companies unintentionally create an environment of uncertainty. Uncertainty = fear.

  2. The analysis questions dig into each S as they align with shared values but leave out their alignment with each other.

  3. The analysis is leadership-biased. The same administration responsible for creating each S is evaluating each S. This provides an open door for Ego. And where ego runs the show, it is run by fear.

For these reasons, I find this model more of a checklist for checking the pulse of a company. Answering the question "is every area in tune with the original vision?" at best keeps all areas in alignment. However, I find it a stretch to use this model to make an innovative change that will move a company forward.

Established in 1996. Kotter's Theory involves eight steps. 1. Create a sense of urgency 2. Build a core coalition 3. Form a strategic vision 4. Convince everyone to get on board 5. Remove barriers 6. Generate short-term wins 7. Sustain acceleration 8. Setting the change in stone.

While it is unlikely the intent, creating a sense of urgency is like the models above, starting from a place of fear. Imagine your first visit to a foreign country for a business meeting. You land, hop in the rental car, and your partner says hurry we only have X minutes to get to our meeting. The setup of the vehicle is entirely different than you're accustomed to, the roads are all backward in their directions from how you drive at home. Your traveling partner insists no time to understand all that we must get to our meeting. It's likely you already had a sense of fear about driving in a new country; the added "sense of urgency" in the matter only heightened that fear, likewise with change. People already experience fear in regards to change and creating a sense of urgency increases that fear.

Negative impacts on motivation.

  1. Starts by multiplying existing fear.

  2. To convince, to twist one's arm, to refute are manipulative. Don't convince. Tap into inner drive. As Dale Brown said "It's not the push from behind or the pull from in front. It's the drive from inside."

  3. Reward changed behavior while nice and often useful, at its root is still manipulation. And as such, over time loses its effectiveness.

Established in 1995. Nudge theory is a mixture of psychology, political philosophy, marketing, and sales. Instead of telling people what to do and how to change, you pave the way for them to choose for themselves the path you would like for them to take. Even though the choice is theirs, the result is pre-selected. It could readily be known as the Manipulative Theory. The most compelling evidence that this theory fails is the current political environment in the US, the Brexit fallout, and any other government turmoil you can find around the globe.

Established in 2003. The ADKAR model consists of five elements - Awareness of the need to change, Desire to participate and support change, Knowledge of how to change, Ability to change, Reinforcement to sustain change.

The model touts itself as focused on people and in a direct sense it is. It is a one-way method - leaders delivering to the people. Leaders communicating to people why change is needed (awareness), creating desire, providing knowledge, implementing training, and reinforcing change with recognition. Each of these steps starts with the leaders and pushes information to the employees. It's communicating TO people, not collaborating WITH people.

Established in 1969 and 2006 respectively. Both models are rooted in psychology and the way people process emotions during a change. Kubler-Ross looks at the five stages of grief as they relate to change and Satir focuses on how those emotions affect company performance. Understanding emotions is a relevant skill for leadership. However, it is passive knowledge at best. Shifting to a model that identifies the positive emotions necessary for change and provides a process that starts and continues to build on those is vital.

The common element in today's models for change is fear.

In summary, fear is the common element in each of the models. Most models create it, some multiply it, and oddly some track its progress. Fear garners all this attention for what? What do we gain through fear? Absolutely nothing. Fear has killed more dreams, lost more wars, and halted achievement more than any other factor in human history.

Interestingly, not a single model focuses on the means of eliminating or transforming it. Mel Robbins, the author of The 5 Second Rule, had this to say about fear:

While removing fear from companies' change initiatives isn't as easy as training employees to count backward - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - there are ways to create an environment of enthusiasm and excitement instead. And that is our goal for part 2 - to introduce a new human-centered organizational innovation model that brings elements of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm to the necessity of change management. In the next post, I will take the useful aspects of past models, infusing them with the innovative facets of design thinking to provide a new model to create successful change wherever your company needs it. To read part 2 now click here.


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