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Rethink Change Justification: Common Mistakes & Essential Steps

We tend to believe that change can be ordered or delivered on demand. If that is the case, we are often mistaken. We ask others to invest in modifying their habits, or their use of systems we provide them with, we explain change in the light of a series of carefully prepared rationales and justifications. Advocating based on adopting the results of change is essential but unfortunately insufficient. In fact, the efficiency of change communication rationales is mostly hindered through sheer, simple haste.

Hastefully engaging into communication under the misguided notion that our arguments being, in our eyes, rational and well founded, and that they will also seem that way to others, is a fatal mistake. Repeating our rationales to stakeholder, to the point of swamping them in our attempt to convince them, only creates further damage. To be clear, I am not arguing that we should not ensure our rationales are well developed, nor that they should not be repeated. I am arguing, however that we must not rush into things and ensure we allow enough time to first go through a few essentials steps.

The first step is to have a comprehensive and detailed map of the stakeholders and tailor specific rationales to their needs and perception. Stakeholders can be change advocates, change averse, or even negotiators. Based on their influence on the results of the change process, rationales and messages need to match each participant’s profile. This is, if anything, the most subtle aspect of change management, which will surely test your understanding of organizational ‘politics’.

The second essential step is to further explore human nature and the wide range of reactions to change rationales, especially in the context of group dynamics. Several research works have gone into creating models of the processes governing individual changes occurring within a group. Kurt Lewin, for one, likens the behavior of people within a group to a sort of balance of forces pushing towards a will for change and those forces pushing to keep things as they are, maintaining the status quo. These findings confirm a wider pattern where it is much more efficient to start by convincing your targets that their status quo is not tenable instead of focusing exclusively on the merits of the targets of change. Building on moderation rather than injunction mechanisms, the aim is to encourage their train of thought to measure the risks of not changing rather than pushing the advantages of change. In initiating change, the imperative of convincing your audience that the current situation is not tenable is more important than arguing for the benefits of change. This argumentation, this rationale, becomes more important once appropriate distance has been taken from the norms and habits which create inertia.

The third essential task is to be able to self-criticize the quality of rationales for change, on a on-going, almost permanent basis. The arguments developed in the initial stages of change conduct may very well become obsolete a few weeks or months from launch. We invest important amounts of time in designing communications tools but spend comparatively little attention evaluating their long term pertinence or validity over time. This imbalance also contributes to the haste I mentioned earlier. It is essential to know how to evaluate your rationales through analytical approaches based on specific and weighed criteria. Personally, on mission, I tend to use the following criteria: ease of use of suggested systems, economies of scale provided by these, their performance among others …

Beyond these three essential steps, I would also like to insist on another factor which heavily influences how relevant a rationale will be within a transformational context. It is the care and attention we apply to ourselves as change leaders or change managers. Indeed, we must bear in mind that stakeholders have the same needs as us. We all need to be understood, reassured and supported before being won over. Once these considerations are incorporated in your operating procedures, the engineering of change argumentation will have every chance of success.


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