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When change happens at work, we see people react in one of three ways:

  • They rally and see what’s possible (for themselves and for the business).
  • They skeptically wait and see how the change will unfold.
  • They head for the “cave of catastrophe” to seek shelter with others who resist the change that’s barreling toward them.

This is the challenge that change leaders face day in and day out: How can they leverage people who are headed in the right direction? How can they convince the skeptics sitting on the fence? And most importantly, how can they coax the change resistors out of the cave?

Change leaders have a difficult job. Not only must they make sure the team understands the change itself, they must also support each person through all the human emotions that come with it. While challenging and time intensive, it’s work that is critical to the success of any change initiative.

Our capacity for change is just 50% of what it was a year ago, according to recent research by Gartner. Yet this reality has had little impact on how businesses are operating. The amount of change and the pace of change aren’t about to let up. To move people from change resistant to change resilient, while knowing that this is the reality they face, we must think about leading change – not just managing it.

It’s Not Just Tools

You can plan for change, enlist sponsors, communicate, and reinforce the change with tools, but don’t be fooled into thinking this will be enough. Tools won’t help you convince the skeptics on the fence or coax the change resistors out of the cave. Only people can do that – specific people, actually – your change leaders. They need to communicate, coach, listen, empathize, activate, and serve as role models for the change. Tools can’t accomplish those things, but skilled change leaders can.

It’s Not Just Skills

While it may be tempting to source a series of highly rated, asynchronous learning resources to quickly “skill up” your change leaders in the competencies that matter most, we urge you to pause. Consider what really activates skills: mindsets. Your change leaders must have the right mindsets to help others navigate the realities of change. They must recognize the ambiguity that accompanies change and have the wherewithal to embrace it rather than be paralyzed by it. They must be able to spot reactive responses from people experiencing change and the know-how to respond in a productive way – one that elicits a shift to a more proactive change response. These mindsets come from reflection, conversation, and shared experience with other change leaders. Save your asynchronous learning resources to reinforce the skills of a change leader rather than to initiate them.

It’s Not Just the Mindsets

Beyond the mindsets, skill sets, and tools that enable great change leaders, one organizational perspective is the biggest difference maker of all: empathy. We’re not talking about traditional empathy, where a leader shows empathy to team members on an individual basis. We’re talking about the future of empathy: empathy 2.0. Empathy 2.0 is an organizational strategy. The best way to build change resiliency is to ensure that people feel seen and heard. Empathy 2.0 requires knowing and acting on what people need at the organizational level. The impact it can have is tremendous. A 2020 study revealed that 83% of employees would consider leaving their current organization to work for one that was more empathetic, and 74% of employees said they would work longer hours for an empathetic employer (Business Solver, 2020). What the data reveals is that empathy 2.0 has the power to build change resilience and unlock the discretionary effort.

A Powerful Combination

Building change resilience across your business is achievable if you approach it strategically. Use empathy 2.0 to tune in to what matters most to your people during the change at hand. Know and act on what people need at the organizational level rather than leaving it up to individual leaders. Apply this thinking to how you prepare your change leaders, too. Identify what they need to lead change with both the head and the heart. By keeping all this in mind, you’ll be well positioned to enable your coalition of change leaders with the mindsets, skill sets, and tools they’ll need to move people from change resistant to change resilient.

March 23, 2021


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