“We need to make some changes around here,” stated the CEO confidently. LinkedIn probably will record a 79% increase in profile updates from this company’s employees immediately following the CEO’s comment. The problem is not so much with making necessary changes; the problem is using the vague word change to describe what you anticipate needing to make different. People don’t naturally resist change. We actually change all the time. We fight anything we perceive as potentially threatening to our well-being which is often the case with one’s reaction to hearing the word change unexpectedly. In the absence of facts, we tend to fill in our worst fears when we hear the “c” word and expect the worst while we hope for the best.
What Does the “C” Word Mean?
A big challenge with change is the vagueness of the word itself. Check out the definition and meaning of the word change at Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, and you will see what I mean. Change is an easy word to mistake its intended meaning from making something different to some coins in a pocket. I believe using the word change in an organizational setting can negatively trigger people’s insecurities, anxieties, curiosity, and frustrations. When people are feeling insecure, they are unable to think creatively, according to fMRI studies of how the brain responds to perceived potential threats. Defensive, anxious, and threatened people naturally resist the perceived threat and do not immediately accept and adapt to the threat. If you want to make a change project even more challenging to gain ultimate utility and adoption, then start by casually dropping change bombs to fire up the rumor mill and grapevine.
Be Specific About What You Really Mean By Change
A quick click on Thesaurus.com, and you will find forty synonyms for the word change. Imagine your natural first reaction to hearing Ms. CEO Boss say, “We are going to invest in some innovations,” or “We plan to upgrade our software with an enhancement to make our workflow more manageable.” Compare your gut feeling to those statements versus, “We are going to be making some changes around here.”
Draw Your Before And After Pictures Of Change
Be clear and specific about the size, scope, and intention of the difference (change) you intend to make, and you may make a positive difference in the rate of adoption of your intended outcome. The goal is to accurately paint a mental before and after picture of the difference you intend to make. Sometimes I challenge my coaching clients who are planning a significant change project to draw a before (current situation) picture and an after (post-project) picture to summarize the difference they are anticipating making in the organization. Then I ask them to most clearly and accurately describe the project based on the images. Is the project a renovation, innovation, conversion, reconstruction, resizing, modification, or something else specifically?
While we may talk about various competencies and disciplines such as change leadership or change management, we need to choose more accurate and less triggering words to reflect better the intention of the difference we are trying to make with and through others. When you change the way you talk about change, the possibilities for more successful changes also change for the better.
If you would like professional support to help you navigate a significant organizational transformation, then let’s have a conversation for a change.