Changing Out Loud

At the risk of accidentally creating a smash hit for Ed Sheeran, during a recent conversation with a colleague, we came up with the idea of “Changing Out Loud” – consider this post an assertion of copyright!

We were thinking how to meet a need around change leadership in a work situation, and were finding the usual change management models (Kotter, Lewin, Bridges etc.) to be missing the point for what we wanted. This wasn’t change management, it was change leadership, and we didn’t really want leaders banging on about refreezing or creating a sense of urgency or sketching out force-field analysis diagrams, we wanted leaders to be telling us what we’re supposed to be doing, and then showing us that they are doing it too.

We realised everyone was talking about change but no one seemed to be changing, and no one seemed to know how to change … so, you know, it’s all very well but it’s all so vague and wishy-washy and we’re all so busy anyway … I’ll change later …

A few years ago I created a metaphor based on Edgar Schein’s change model as a starting place for my thinking on change, it’s the approach I have found to be the most useful, especially when dealing with clients.

It works like this:

People know how to do their jobs now, they know how to survive in the status quo and also they’re busy with their day job, so there is a natural state of inertia – this isn’t resistance to change exactly, it’s surviving in the status quo.

The big fancy “compelling vision” sounds like a vague pie-in-the-sky insubstantial unproven blob that doesn’t sound anywhere near as enticing as the safe solid ground they’re standing on right now.

The path to get to that vision is unsafe, it’s a rickety rope bridge of ambiguity and risk that means I have to learn new things, follow new processes, and possibly even adopt a different mindset, and all of these things create uncertainty and anxiety (Schein argued that adults get “learning anxiety” because learning has phases of incompetence before a new level of competence is reached, and incompetence is risky!)

Here comes the metaphor – from the point of view of the orgasnisational leadership:

But here’s what it looks like for the people who work there:

A good change leader – one with strong Change Intelligence (CQ) (I just made that up too, copyright! … correction, turns out Barbara Trautlein was ahead of me) – is to do three things:

  1. Make the vision more real – so that means you need to prove it, you need to talk about it (and why we’re doing it), and you need to model it
  2. Make the path to the vision more safe – this means creating psychological safety so that change feels safer that traversing a dodgy rope bridge with missing planks and crocodiles waiting in the river below
  3. Make the status quo less safe – this is the dark side of the model, but Schein argues that we need to create “survival anxiety” so that we undermine the solid ground of the status quo so that the change programme (the metaphorical rope bridge) and future vision start to sound like the safer options to survive

Changing Out Loud addresses the first two of these.

Changing Out Loud means leaders telling people specifically what changes they are making and asking people to hold them to account on it. They articulate exactly what they are doing differently, then they do it, then they ask for feedback and talk about their experience of the new behaviours.

They also talk about the difficulties they had trying to change and trying to learn the new ways of working, and so they create psychological safety for others to do the same.

In short:

  1. Talk about the why (the vision) a lot
  2. Tell people specifically what you will be doing differently (and why)
  3. Tell people how you got on, what worked and what didn’t, and what you’ll try next

This isn’t about gestures – it’s not the CEO taking the day to work on the shop floor (although it can include that) – it is the CEO talking, in specifics, about how they – the CEO – need to change to live up to the new vision.

As the leader at the top does this, they encourage those below them to do the same, and so on … and so slowly we edge together across that rope bridge and we start to change.

Please feel free to use the Changing Out Loud concept in your own work, but we thought of it first!

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