“To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.”    —Arnold Bennett

A great deal of emotional investment is necessary to achieve the desired outcome of strategic initiatives, yet most change endeavors lean heavily toward the cerebral components (data reviews, critical activities and milestones, logical presentations, rational decision-making, etc.). Several factors contribute to this, one being that intellectual commitment typically precedes emotional commitment and thus, in some ways, is easier to come by. That is, people may quickly grasp the implications of a change at a logical level but then find that they need more time and effort to make the necessary emotional adjustments.

When emotional accommodation is too far behind the logical acceptance of change, dual—often contradictory—signals are sent by the person facing the transition. This kind of split-level commitment can produce confusion, mixed signals, and ambiguous communication for all involved. People may think that they have accepted a recent approach or policy change only to find that once they actually engage in the new behaviors, they are not emotionally prepared to deal with the consequences (such as changing relationships with co-workers or a shift in the political landscape).

When implementing major change, a foundation of logic alone (without an emotional counterweight) creates one-sided behavior in people:

  • They have only a cognitive understanding of what the change entails. Therefore, they under-attend and under-resource key emotional components needed to actually accommodate what is happening.
  • They lack the heartfelt emotional commitment necessary to sustain them during the long, difficult journey.
  • They avoid the tough discussions required to build true alignment and thus fail to create the emotional context needed to transform the organization.

When understanding, commitment, and alignment are less than they need to be, what typically results is installation of an endeavor’s intended outcomes rather than full realization. (For a deeper exploration of these terms, see my post, Guidelines for Dealing With Top Change Challenges.)

One way professional change facilitators can create value for clients is to ensure the approaches, models, techniques, etc. we use promote the proper mix of logic and emotion throughout the entire implementation process.

Overall, successful transformation requires a healthy balance between reason and emotion. At certain points, however, it is important to place disproportionate weight on the emotional components in order to break through entrenched mindset blocks and/or resistance patterns that thwart realization. As professional change facilitators, it’s incumbent upon us to be prepared to address the strong feeling-based aspects of practicing our craft. By this, I mean encouraging clients to delve into the connection between their heads and their hearts…to help them see how the logical aspects of the process relate to the emotional side of unfolding change.

Leaders who succeed with change understand the emotional aspects of implementing change.

Emotion-based interventions are by no means limited to our work with sponsors, but I’ll focus on leaders here because they often need our assistance to see the value of addressing the feeling side of the implementation process. Initiating sponsors face many challenges that call for a heightened emphasis on the affective components of implementation. Here are some examples of when strong feelings could come into play:

  • Convincing others that the organization is faced with a business-imperative scenario and that it is vital for them to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to reach full realization
  • Establishing a deep connection between success of the various initiatives and fulfillment of one’s purpose
  • Making compelling personal statements about the positive implications for success as well as the price to be paid if an initiative doesn’t achieve its intended results
  • Ensuring consistency between what is communicated about an initiative’s intent and the related consequences affecting people
  • Helping other leaders understand that their job isn’t to keep people happy during change, it’s to help them succeed despite their discomfort
  • Engaging in personal, introspective examinations of such things as:
    • Blind-spot behaviors that could jeopardize desired change outcomes
    • Perspectives or biases that could cause unintended negative consequences
    • Displaying insufficient resilience in the face of uncertainty and adversity
    • Failure to acknowledge or learn from mistakes
  • Dramatically shifting long-standing cultural mindsets and behaviors that are hindering the realization of needed change
  • Significantly reducing (if not eliminating) organizational pathologies such as:
    • Focusing on parochial concerns instead of realization of change
    • Showing patterns of conflict avoidance, passive aggressiveness, attacking/blaming, and destructive disagreements
    • Covert sabotaging of unpopular decisions
    • Ignoring diverse opinions
    • Engaging in turf wars and silo mentality
  • Making extremely tough choices about such things as:
    • How much—and how fast—change can be introduced
    • Which important projects or aspects of the business will be reduced in scope, slowed down, or altogether eliminated to make room for even more important change initiatives
    • Who among the incumbent management/employees is capable of enduring the high risk, accelerated ambiguity and demanding pace—and who can’t or won’t make the journey
  • Facing the reality that sponsors themselves are often the strongest inhibitors to realizing the very changes they promote
  • Accepting the phenomenal levels of responsibility and accountability carried by senior leaders of business-imperative, transformational change

These are only a few of the circumstances that professional change facilitators must be prepared to address when clients deal with the emotional side of their transformational journeys. In this series, I’ll explore what I consider the more difficult of the emotion-centered interventions we pursue…those that take on a cathartic-level release of feelings. In the next post, I’ll explain what I mean by the cathartic part of practicing our craft.

Next: Adjusting to the Unfamiliar is an Emotional Process