November 23, 2011

Combining results focus with sensitivity in organizational change

Change is more likely to succeed when a results focus is consistently combined with a sensitivity for the perspective of individuals. Acknowledging and utilizing the perspective of employees in organizational change can be beneficial in several ways:
  1. They are more likely to feel taken seriously and understood and will experience more safety to express their views and concerns.
  2. When you take the trouble to try to understand these views and concerns, the organizational change process may benefit from using and addressing them.
  3. When you take these employees seriously, there is good chance they will reprocitate. If you take them seriously they will tend to take you more seriously as well. This will help them to understand the rationale behind the change better.
  4. They will be likely to open up and become more creative which will help them discover new and useful perspective and solutions.
Even in cases in which employees seem resistant solution-focused change managers try to avoid an authoritarian and confrontational approach. Instead, solution-focused change managers work from the assumption that, nearly always, behind the employee's behavior is a legitimate concern and, ultimately, a good intention. Of course, when someone says or does something which sounds or seems offensive or negative, it can be hard to not become defensive or negative oneself. What helps in such situations is to fall back on a deliberate strategy which I have dubbed searching the plus behind the minus.

Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro, authors of Beyond Reason said something which fits well with the solution-focused change approach: "Perhaps the most powerful way to soothe someone's strong emotions is to appreciate their concerns. People often want you to realize that they are angry or upset - and to see the merit in their concerns. Until you appreciate their experience, the intensity of those emotions is unlikely to diminish. [...] Many people fear that appreciating someone's point of view is equivalent to agreeing with them. Wrong. Whether or not you agree with someone, you can find merit in their reasoning and let them know. You give up none of your authority to decide; you can still say yes or no to proposals and increase the likelihood that the two of you will be able to work together effectively. It is possible to understand a person's ideas or opinions that you think are foolish or patently wrong. It is also possible to understand, for example, arguments that you believe are weighty, important, and deserving attention even if you happen to disagree with them or feel that they are outweighted by other factors. Communicating that you understand is quite different from saying, 'I agree with you' or 'I will do what you suggest'."

1 comment:

  1. Great post as usual, Coert. I want to reinforce your opening statement about results oriented change that also acknowledges the perspective of employees. I have found over the years of using SF in many applications in organizations that having desired outcomes for the work is the best way to allow the participants some room to express their reluctance to engage. Whenever I have facilitated SF work that isn't clear in it's goals, especially the larger business outcomes, the resistant participants find it harder to engage. When the larger goals are clear, while they may not openly acknowledge them, they are used to working in that framework.

    I am reminded of the line, organizations are full of people anxious to be told what to do. To which I always add, how you tell them matters.

    That said, it's interesting the number of companies that can't easily express the larger goals with clarity. This makes the workers jobs much harder. But, that’s another issue…


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