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Why Change Is an Affair of the Heart

Why Change Is an Affair of the Heart

Many of today's business leaders, and CIOs in particular, find it difficult to change employee behaviour, because they rely on the entrenched analysis-think-change pattern

In the drama of change, emotions, not logic, impel people to cast off the old and embrace the new

Everyone wants to know why so many IT projects fail to produce the business transformation they're expected to. The reason we found after years of studying large-scale change may surprise you. Our research, based on interviews with hundreds of executives in Fortune 1000-type companies around the world, revealed that it is not the complexity of the technology, a lack of buy-in from top management, high cost or the failure to create shareholder value that derails new projects. Instead, the single biggest challenge in any transformation project is simply getting people to change their behaviour.

We also discovered that when people do change their behaviour, it's rarely because they are offered a logical analysis that shifts their thinking but because they are shown a compelling truth that influences their feelings. Emotions are what trigger action - impelling people to behave in the often radically different and difficult ways that substantial change demands. We have found that at the heart of every successful change effort lies a three-part process: 1. seeing what the problems are; 2. feeling an urgency to solve them; and 3. being emotionally compelled to act.

Too Much Thinking Going On

Recent meetings we've had with more than 5100 businesspeople around the world - including many IT leaders and professionals - underscore the importance of emotions in effecting change. When talking about their most successful projects, the vast majority of respondents said they were "feeling something" as opposed to "thinking about something" during the process. Steve Jobs' success at Apple illustrates the effectiveness of reframing a message that is simple, positive and emotional. When he returned to the company as interim CEO in 1997, Jobs recast Apple's image as a marginalized player in the battle for market share serving an elite hive of creative innovators who dared to "think different".

Yet many of today's business leaders, and CIOs in particular, find it difficult to change employee behaviour, because they rely on the entrenched analysis-think-change pattern. This is the model that most of us learned in business school - data about the problem is gathered and analyzed, and logical arguments are presented via reports and lectures; people change their thinking based on these "hard facts", which motivate them to take action. CIOs, typically steeped in analytical training, are even more apt to follow this pattern and overlook the emotional element of change. Although analyzing and thinking are important, we found that seeing and feeling must be present in order to impel people to change their behaviours.

Setting the Stage

Our research revealed that there are three basic phases to the change process. The first, the preparation phase, typically involves heightening the sense of urgency, generating a clear and achievable vision, and creating guiding teams. Like powerful fuel, these activities compel people to take action. One of the most effective ways to initiate change is to use compelling, eye-catching, dramatic situations to get people to see what the problems are and to feel an urgent need to resolve them. For example, one IT team at an energy company put on a play that demonstrated the effects of inefficient manual processes versus those of a proposed real-time system. The play highlighted the frustration that occurred when balls were dropped, such as when someone took a power generator out of the maintenance facility but forgot to record it, creating an unpleasant surprise a few days later for the next person who needed one and could not find one. In comparison, a real-time system would have circumvented this problem by se nding an automatic purchase order to the supplier for another power generator.

At another company, an executive placed stacks and stacks of overpriced supplies on a boardroom table to highlight inefficiencies in the purchasing process so that top leadership could see the consequences of what they were allowing to occur in the field. Yet another "blew up" a posh executive suite and replaced it with offices that encourage collaboration and conversation.

These types of actions evoke a visceral response that short-circuits the emotions that block change (complacency, fear and anger) and enhances those that support it (urgency, optimism and faith). Although logic is important for establishing the business case for change, it does not carry the same motivational clout as emotionally charged ideas.

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