Change the word, “CHANGE.”


As you read the title of this article, I know this may feel somewhat counter intuitive. We have used the word when leading and managing “change” for decades. When instigating a project we expect things to develop from one place to another or introducing something new to a system or process and maybe to take an element of the current status in a team or firm away, we call it “change” management, when actually what we are referring to is mindset, thinking and behavior management. Shifting mindsets to influence thinking that informs our behavior so we do something different is the only way we can “change” any outcome.

In observing peoples response to the notion of “change” it sent me down a rabbit hole of research and discovery that led me to the conclusion that labelling change can often lead to a negative response from folk – let’s explore some of the reasons.

Firstly – just type in your search engine the word, “CHANGE.” You will find this list of words associated with it:

  • Amendment
  • Correction
  • Rectification
  • Reform
  • Conversion
  • Deformation
  • Distortion
  • Metamorphosis
  • Transformation
  • Fluctuation
  • Oscillation
  • Shift
  • Displacement
  • Replacement
  • Substitution
  • Modulation
  • Regulation
  • Tweak
  • Redesign
  • Redo
  • Mutation
  • Adjustment

What you may notice about the vast majority of the meaning with these words is there could be more correlation to a sense of loss, more of a sense of undoing something. As a species we are creatures of habit, we generally don’t like letting go of the unconscious comfort that comes from routine. When we make those unconscious associations, the past resistance and emotions may present themselves to you in your present actions, behavior and language. This also may be recognised by others and go unnoticed by you.

The problem here is when any change is instigated, without conscious thought and consideration, your unconscious behaviors leak out to others in your language (spoken and unspoken) and actions and it could be perceived as, you not wanting to make that “thing” happen.

How many change programs have you experienced over the last 5 to 10 years, If you are anything like me, I would imagine dozens right? When we label an iteration as “change” we can also be presented with change fatigue vs. adapting and evolving into the future.

So here are my top tips in encouraging, exciting, adapting and evolving the environment vs getting stuck in the hum drum of the next “change” initiative.

1) Context = Buy-In 

The biggest reason folk resist doing anything outside of what they do today is, they don’t understand the “why” or “reason.” Having your team articulate the dots – how they are connected and where they lead is a massive enabler to positively transform any system, behavior or initiative. That destination becomes the vision and the north star to guide you forward.

2) We all have a level of resistance to change – so let folk know!

“Oh the irony” I hear you cry! The fact is we all have different levels in processing change as it will move us out of our comfort zones. Some of us get excited by the lure of new and different, while most will, to some extent, feel discomfort, dread, fear or other emotions previously and unconsciously anchored by years of change. Let folk know this is ok and perfectly normal. Like most solutions, the answer lay in the problem. Resistance and adverse reaction to change is usually a lack of context and reason.

3) Relabel and reframe it – but don’t name it!

Most organizations I’ve worked with call their projects by a name. I get that they want to provide clarity and give identity to a temporary team and exciting new project, however by labelling it merely reinforces yet another change which could lead to more fatigue. With context and those dots connected (vision) you only have to talk about the destination – where it positively takes you, rather than a name that bares little connectivity and purpose such as “Project Big Apple” etc. I once had a client who named all their projects by animals and this also distracted folk as side bets were waged as to the name of the next project.

4) First things first. 

If you want to enable folk to head off to a different destination, the journey can often seem too far away at the outset and resistance sets in once more. This too could trigger the same unhelpful reaction. The answer is to get specific and relevant early (and to the purists – even in an Agile change project). If it’s a sprint in Agile, what do the sprint outcomes look and feel like? Does it move you closer to your destination? If it’s a milestone what’s the first thing to be delivered within it, you get my drift. This specificity kicks starts action and that provides positive energy and engagement.

So in summary as leaders who will be transitioning from one place to another, evolving, pivoting and adapting your teams, clients and organization, I’d invite you to consider dropping the word “CHANGE” and replacing it with vernacular that aligns to the destination. This will allow high levels of participation, create less resistance and change fatigue in the future and of course a more successful adoption of what you want to see in the future.

Written by Steve Rush.

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