Executive coach Janet Walls reviews change management models from leading experts

Article by Janet Walls, an executive coach in Vanderbilt Business’ Alumni LDP coaching network.

November was my gratitude month. I set aside time for a daily mindset of gratefulness in order to prepare for the festive chaos that December brings. It’s easy for me to generate a long list of things to be grateful for, but how many of these entries involve change?

Executive Coach Janet Walls

Do you have change at the top of your gratitude list?  We certainly welcome life changes such as the birth of a child, a graduation, new home, or long-awaited promotion. But most of these changes are viewed as positive gains. The changes that encompass loss may not land on our gratitude list.

Organizational change is the process of shifting an organization from its current state to a future one. Most leaders will encounter resistance to change, either personally or professionally. Many of those associates will resist change for reasons like uncertainty, loss of control, and fear of the unknown.

Is it possible to position organizational change with a positive slant so that employees approach the change management process with a mindset of excitement, appreciation, and even gratefulness for change? Let’s take a look at what respected leaders in change management have to say about guiding people through the process of change.

Cast the vision. Leadership and change management expert John Kotter emphasizes the importance of creating a vision to direct the change effort and communicating that vision through both words and actions. Kotter’s original 8-step change model and his 2014 Accelerate model emphasize the importance of shaping a vision and developing the strategic initiatives to achieve that vision. Kotter suggests that the leader should be able to communicate the vision in five minutes or less in a way that demonstrates interest and understanding.

Identify the competing commitment. Organizational psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey conclude that people resist change because of a competing commitment as opposed to opposition or a lack of inertia. Kegan and Lahey describe this competing commitment as a subconscious, hidden goal that makes people personally immune to change. It is important for you, as a leader, to help the employee uncover the hidden commitment in order to keep talented associates engaged and increase the likelihood of a successful change initiative.

Utilize reframing to shift the perspective from negative to positive or from loss to gain. Reframing is a technique that replaces negative thought patterns with positive, constructive self-talk. Reframing can be a powerful tool during change initiatives, as the leader encourages the associates to focus on the positive aspects of change. Psychologist Martin Seligman pioneered the area of positive psychology and outlines a measurement of well being in his latest book, Flourish.

The five elements to well being are 1) positive emotion, 2) engagement, 3) relationships, 4) meaning, and 5) achievementLeaders who successfully navigate change initiatives employ positive psychology techniques as they listen to the concerns of their team and then help them reframe the concerns into opportunities for gain.

A change management process is perhaps one of the more critical moments for leaders to align the change with the organization’s core values. For example, if creativity and innovation are identified as core values of the organization, the leader should model them by carving out quiet space for innovative thinking and creating an environment that encourages associates to suggest improvements to current systems and processes.

John F. Kennedy described change as the law of life. He observed,“ those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” So when faced with leading your team through the next change initiative, remember to cast the vision, identify the competing commitment, utilize reframing, and model the way. And don’t forget to be grateful for the change.