Change Management: How to bring your people on board the rocket

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The antidote to fear

Commander Chris Hadfield is arguably one of the most famous astronauts today. He was the first Canadian in space, flew two Space Shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station (ISS). In total, he has spent 166 days in space. During his last mission on the ISS, he became particularly well-known for his photography of Earth from the ISS, and also for his rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, performed on the space station. Once during a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session, a Redditor asked him a question that astronauts get asked frequently: When you’re sitting in that rocket or that shuttle, and you are waiting for that incredible acceleration as all those highly flammable fuels is unleashed into the power rocket motors to thrust you into speed at almost 30 times the speed of sound—aren’t you afraid?

This was his response:

“By the time I am listening to the countdown get to single digits I have been trained for countless hours on every single emergency procedure and I have a deep understanding of everything that could go wrong and what the crew could do in each instance. That knowledge takes away the fear.”

It seems simple. But it is true. The only antidote to fear is knowledge.

Humans don’t like change

Today, more than ever in the history of humanity, we understand that the only constant to our world is changing. Nothing stays the same—and if it does, it will almost instantly become obsolete. But most organisations are powered by humans. And most humans don’t particularly like change. Just ask Coca-Cola. In 1985 they introduced a new formulation of the world’s most popular soda, and they called it New Coke. But the reaction of the public was so severe that within months they had to retreat. Or monitor social media anytime any of the big platforms introduce a subtle change in their user-interface design. People don’t like change.

Human Action

In 1949, Austrian thinker, philosopher, and economist, Ludwig Von Mises wrote a famous treatise called Human Action. In it, he describes three requirements that need to be fulfilled in order for human beings to act toward change. These requirements are as relevant and acknowledged today as they were when it was written.
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Dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs
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A vision of a better state of affairs
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A genuine belief that the better state can be achieved.

So how do you help people deal with change in your organisation?

Here are some tips and tricks that could help you fulfill Von Mises’ requirements:
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Clearly define the Big Opportunity

Make sure that everyone in the organisation is aware of how much better it would be for everyone if we all reach for the Big Opportunity. Use storytelling and emotion to help everyone in the organisation have a clear understanding of what this better state looks like. Don’t leave people out. Dissenting voices who are allowed to whisper in hallways will hamper your efforts for building this cohesive North Star to which you want to navigate to. If people have questions and concerns, answer them in a clear, concise and straightforward way.
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Make sure your Opportunity is framed in a purposeful way

Too often we look at situations in a superficial way. We deal with the what and the how instead of answering the most crucial question: the why. For more on this, see Simon Sinek’s excellent primer on his Start With Why premise.

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Set smaller goals along the way

To instill the belief that the team can get there, we have to build confidence. The more a team succeeds, the more it nurtures a culture of success and that in turn, helps every one to get on with the job of winning. The goals could either be related to the Opportunity to which you want to go, or it could be completely unrelated. The desired outcome is simply that the team develops the belief that they are winners and that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to. Be clear to celebrate the wins in a demonstrable way. And if there are losses along the way, celebrate the effort and don’t hold back on discussing what could have worked better—of course in a non-judgemental way.
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Be clear on what is wrong with staying in the same place

We want our team to develop that dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. So be clear that staying in the same position is not desirable for survival. As with painting the picture of where you want to go, be clear, transparent and allow for questions and comments until you are sure the entire team gets the picture.

In conclusion

If we empower our people with knowledge, we can help them overcome their fear of change. If we do it in a structured way, then we can systematically bring them onboard our rocket ship and take them to the stars.

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