The New Era of Change?

Performance Improvement


June 2, 2016

Once upon a time in a Texas-sized resort hotel outside Dallas, 1,000 change management practitioners gathered to tell stories, ask questions, meditate, be vulnerable and talk about happiness. Unusual, yes. And welcome. Shawn Achor’s keynote set the tone, charging us to create our own happiness using 5 simple practices a day. Darryl Conner, grandfather of the profession, asked us to put our talents to use on changes that matter to us, that touch our personal sense of purpose. Brene Brown closed the event by inviting us to acknowledge the presence of vulnerability in resistance and to embrace it with courage.

The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) stepped up to multiple widely-quoted research studies to reverse the stigma that few change efforts are successful. They leaned in to new research around positive emotion and moved beyond communication plans toward direct engagement of stakeholders in creating their own change environments and outcomes. Key learnings from the conference?

  • Emotions matter. From happiness to vulnerability, we need to learn to use emotion, and story telling continues to be a favored path to tapping into these emotions.
  • Coaching has proven itself a powerful tool for large scale change and repurposing it for 1:1 interactions is gaining traction
  • Lead people to change by banning WIIFM. Stakeholders need to find their own reasons to change.

For a deeper dive, keep reading.

The Story is King

Tapping into recent UC-Berkeley research that focused on the effect of stories on the brain, Beth McGraw, Brene Brown, and Karen Ball of Prosci all used stories to take us on a journey through and about change. Beth’s session “Tell Me a Story” said we spend 80% of our story on the setup and the situation / conflict and only 20% on resolution, and suggested it should be the other way around. Karen Ball urged us to frame the ‘why’ of our change by combining story with logic, emotion, and visual cues.

Make Your Change (Really) Personal with Coaching

OCM has traditionally been about change at scale. This year there was a recognition that since the change journey is individual, 1:1 coaching might be an effective change tool. Jessica Bronzert led a major cultural change initiative at Lowe’s, actively building 1:1 coaching sessions with key leaders into her change plan. In the spirit of ICF coaching guidelines, she stopped giving them scripts and instead worked with them to find their own path to the change, and their own ways of leading it. This is consistent with the work we shared in our own session, NeuroCharge Your Change. Using tools from a brain-based coaching approach we brought two of our clients to tell their stories about how neuroscience tools have helped them to successful change.

Embrace Tools from Experiential Learning to Lead People to Change

Luc Galoppin’s session exemplified the themes and practices that we at NH found most compelling at the conference. He adopted a coaching mindset, framing his session around a series of questions. He built common identity in a group of strangers where we could be vulnerable almost without being aware we were doing so. Then, session participants spent close to 2 hours actively discovering new insights about their own changes in a structured session that allowed for individual learning. At one point in his completely experiential session, he invited all 150 people in the room to “ban WIIFM” from our vocabularies. This amounted to an entire room of people tossing out a commandment of their profession. The room erupted in a (muted) cheer. We think it is only in an environment structured to allow stakeholders to find their own way to new answers that such insights can arise.


What’s left to do?

Sprinkled in around the edges were more sessions about measuring the success of change efforts and techniques for gathering stakeholder feedback, two persistent themes from prior conferences and areas where there’s always more work to be done.

Change Managers are fond of saying “the only constant is change,” and time at the conference proved we’re all on board. The business of change is changing. It needed to. There is a growing conviction that we can’t know what our stakeholders are thinking, that we can’t tell them how to feel and how to embrace our change. And we don’t have to. The most underutilized resource in many change efforts is the wisdom of our stakeholders themselves and with the help of neuroscience and behavioral science, we are beginning to understand how to harness it.

Change is good.