Change Is Good: C Is for Context

Change Is Good is a blog series in which Roger Kastner highlights the simplicity in the art of Organizational Change Management and strives to encourage readers to maximize Pareto’s Law when navigating through the complexity of human behavior.

Slalom Consulting Roger Kastner

A Consultant Manager with Slalom Consulting, Roger works with clients and other consultants in the delivery of Organizational Effectiveness and Project Leadership services and helps practitioners achieve greater success than previously possible.

Originally, I originally thought about naming this blog “C is for Cookies” and I could make a case of it. By making cookies for someone, you’ve made them feel special because you took the time to recognize and value them. And there’s a strong correlation between treating people fairly and successful change management. Our natural tendency to resist change can be mitigated if we feel our needs and viewpoints are respected and we are treated fairly.

And being given cookies along the way couldn’t hurt.

However, C is not for cookies, and not out of fear of the Sesame Street lawyers. Instead, C is for Context, as in the context for change and specifically what the change means for the individual.

Successful organizational change is the manifestation of accumulative personal decisions to accept the change. And the context for organizational change needs to be made at two levels: why is change good for the organization, and why it is good for the individual.

Leadership is responsible for making the case why change is good for the organization, and the organization’s rationale for change needs to be 1) made clearly, 2) delivered consistently throughout leadership, and 3) relevant to the impacted individuals. Lastly, something very important needs to happen: the context for change needs to be made to each impacted individual in very specific and tactical terms.

Organizational Context: Vision for Change
“Increasing revenue and market share,” “deepening customer relationships,” “expense reduction,” while all these are crucial for running a business and for leaders’ bonuses, they are not always motivating to individuals impacted by the change. Instead, most individuals are part of an organization because there is something about the mission of the organization that brought them here in the first place and keeps them here.

A leader’s duty is to tie the new change to the organization’s mission, and communicate that vision statement repeatedly to the team. All official communications and subsequent management statements should connect-to, and reinforce, that vision.

It’s that simple.

Individual Context: What’s In It For Me?
While the organization’s pronouncements for change is something for t-shirts and banners, those statements can sound hollow, and will lack impact, if not followed up by managers setting the context of change for impacted individuals.

Yet, even though the rationale explaining why the change is good for the individual, no one likes to be told why something is “good for them.” When was the last time you felt good about the dentist telling you to floss, your father telling you to take your elbows off the table, or your mother telling you to eat all your vegetables? It’s paternalistic, it’s belittling, and it’s insulting.

I don’t know of too many people who enjoy being “told” anything. If we have a natural emotional and physiological resistance to change, being told why the change is good for us will likely only raise our level of resistance.

Instead, providing individual context is less about why the change is good for them, and more about setting expectations for the transition into the change so as to demystify the journey.
Here are the components of a conversation between manager and employee that will effectively provide the context for change at the individual level:

  • Role and Behavior Expectations—Clearly state what is changing in the individual’s role and the corresponding behaviors that are expected from the individual. You can only hold someone accountable if you set clear expectations for them.
  • Support—Identify the support that the individual will receive through the transition: training, job aids, mentoring, etc.
  • Performance Measurement—Outline how the individual’s performance will be measured during the transition and once the change is “operational” so they know how they will be measured.
  • Rewards and Consequences—Its carrot and stick time. What will the individual receive if they successfully transition into the new status quo, and what can they expect to happen if they don’t. And as with children, do not float a consequence unless you are willing to carry through.
  • Ask Questions—And now, this is the most important part. By doing the above, you have provided the context of the change for the individual, and it’s their time to tell you if they can identify a positive rationale for change. Their responses will tell you if they can identify the rationale, if they have concerns about the change, and whether or not they will resist the change.

What questions do you ask? Some variety of the following would do nicely:

  • Do you think this change will be good for the organization?
  • Do you think this change will be good for you?
  • What concerns do you have with the change or the change plan?
  • Can you think of reasons why some people will not accept the change?

Just like receiving cookies as a gift, asking these types of questions will demonstrate thoughtfulness, fairness, and recognition of the individual’s choice in acceptance of the change. The responses will not only demonstrate the individuals disposition toward the change, but can also identify areas of resistance for the change that should be shared with whomever is managing the change initiative.

Change is good for organizations and for individuals, and to get individuals to accept the change you must provide the context for both the organization and the individual. Without the context, there will be no personal decision to follow, and therefore compliance to change will only be achieved through threat or force, and that will never lead to the full and sustainable ROI on any project.

It’s that simple.

About Roger Kastner
As a member of the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom Consulting, I'm excited to share my perspectives and experiences with Change and Project Management to help clients and practitioners achieve their goals and objectives.

4 Responses to Change Is Good: C Is for Context

  1. Pingback: Change is Good: D is for Decision « The Slalom Blog

  2. Pingback: Change is Good: F is for Focus « The Slalom Blog

  3. Pingback: Why Projects Succeed: Organizational Change Management « The Slalom Blog

  4. Pingback: Change Is Good: Keep It Super Simple | The Slalom Blog

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