The emotional case for change

We find over and over again in our work that the “case for change” does not actually lead people to change all that much. The so-called “knowing-doing gap” is evident in corporate life, much as it is in those wanting to lose weight or quit smoking: the “case” is clear enough, yet action does not follow intent.

Much energy is typically spent on creating the “rational” case for change: reasons we should work in different ways, such as changes in market outlook and competitive dynamics. The long term benefits of change are outlined in detail: greater profits for example, more satisfied customers, or a more efficient process. The reasoning is clear and hard to disagree with; the problem is that too often, actual change does not follow the “case”. In addition to compelling people’s minds, we need to speak to their hearts as well.

Here are a handful of Sokratic questions to start addressing the emotional case for change:

  • What makes your people most proud of themselves and their work? How can you connect the change you want to this source of pride?
  • What are your people already doing (no matter how small) that supports the change you want? How can you leverage that to encourage them that change is not hard – they’re already doing it?
  • How do your people see their own purpose, and how can you connect with that? For example, can you speak with your senior leaders about the legacy they would like to leave behind – how would they like to be remembered once they retire? Can you speak with your scientists about the breakthrough they dream of being known for, and how the change you want might support this? Can you translate the change for the mothers in your team into something that benefits their children?
  • What identity can you create for your people that is worth aspiring to? Can you help them see how the change they want would make them part of the “cool club”, or of the “most generous and helpful group”, or of the “highest integrity leaders”?