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💗3 Components of Human-Centered Change

change leadership compassion human-centered resilience Oct 24, 2022

Change management isn't a new concept. Many practitioners in the field would define it as a process and approach for managing the people side of change. While that's true, at Apogy, we teach a new approach to change management, one that emphasizes caring for the human side of it. 

Human-centered change management incorporates many tactics that practitioners are familiar with to help stakeholders navigate change. What sets it apart, however, is that change leaders pause and ask, "What do people need here at this moment?" Change leaders can successfully practice human-centered change management by leaning into these three components: building connections, leading with compassion, and collaboration (involving people in the process).  

Connection

The way we think and talk about building connections at work has shifted because of the pandemic. In pre-pandemic times, teammates naturally built relationships as part of being in the workplace. There were numerous opportunities to connect in passing, informally, and sitting next to one another nearby. These connections, no matter how big or small, sparked trust and connection amongst team members - which is vital for change and innovation to succeed. 

Hybrid workplaces lead to fewer opportunities to connect organically, and the reality is that we can't manufacture trust. It must happen on its own and be authentic. Genuine trust not only benefits employees but also helps organizations thrive, too. When coworkers feel connected, they act differently. They are more responsive to change, willing to collaborate, and inclined to solve problems versus just identifying them. This is often misinterpreted for resistance, when it’s really a byproduct of the environment itself (low-trust, low-connection amongst employees). 

Organizations with high social connectedness perform better and adapt quicker. They're more agile, efficient, and profitable than companies with less-connected teams.

Even though connectivity is different in today’s hybrid work environment, it's not impossible to achieve. Change leaders can support connection-building by creating space for informal conversations and normalizing these interactions. One way to do so is to include a simple “icebreaker” at the beginning of a meeting. Icebreakers allow stakeholders to connect on a more personal level, which helps to surface shared interests or experiences, thereby accelerating the trust-building process. An icebreaker isn’t appropriate for every type of meeting, but it certainly makes sense for smaller groups and project teams - especially in the forming and storming phases of a new team’s development. 

Getting to know people through a one-on-one meeting or informal check-in is another way to build relationships. While text, messaging, email, video conferencing and other forms of digital communication are prevalent, don’t underestimate the power of a simple, unscheduled phone call. Stevie Wonder had it right; there’s something to be said for this form of interaction and its ability to demonstrate caring in a way the other methods just can’t. 

Compassion

Compassion is empathy in action and is core to caring for the human side of change. Leading with compassion isn't about acknowledging the difficulty others are experiencing due to the change; it's about doing something about those challenges and what people are feeling. Transparent, timely communication is an act of compassion. Being inclusive demonstrates compassion. Ensuring stakeholders have a voice in the process is compassionate, too. 

Leading with compassion requires self-awareness, social awareness, patience, and persistence. In fast-paced workplaces, we tend to make the mistake of thinking we don't have time to explore people's thoughts and feelings through the lens of compassion, or that stakeholders should “be grateful they have a job” and therefore fall in line.  

Remember the Telephone Game? The further the message is from the original source, the more it breaks down and dissolves. The same concept applies to explaining the rationale for change in the workplace - somehow, something always gets lost in translation. The easy way out is to blame resistance. Compassionate change leaders recognize this dynamic and take accountability for thinking differently and coming up with new ideas on how to guide and support people throughout the process. 

To lead with more compassion, consider putting yourself in other people's shoes to better understand their views and where they're sitting. Traditional change management frameworks highlight how to manage resistance, but a more compassionate approach focuses on developing resilience.  Apogy’s “5Rs” is a useful framework that describes evidence-based actions and behaviors that increase stakeholder resilience. This includes: 

  • REPLACE self-concern with self-reflection
  • REINFORCE learning with practice and experimentation 
  • RESPECT people doing the work - trust their expertise 
  • REWARD effort and celebrate progress (and mistakes!)
  • RECHARGE as often as needed - change can be stressful 

Collaboration

Incorporating collaboration into your process as a change leader is crucial because people don't resist change; they resist being controlled or not having a voice. Data reveals that teams with high levels of cohesion have 1.8x more capacity for change. 

An easy way to strengthen collaboration is to involve the people impacted by the change in the strategy and decision-making as early as possible. Unfortunately, this happens far too often, far too late in the game. So, if you have a seat at the table be sure to pull up a chair for your mid-level manager or frontline worker. They have the best pulse in the organization on the day-to-day process and impacts and do more to prevent (versus create) delays in the design, development, and overall delivery of the change. 

Admittedly, collaboration looks and feels different these days. Even so, studies show that bringing groups of people together, in-person, is one of the fastest ways to build trust and activate stakeholder commitment. In hybrid and remote work environments, the on-site is the new off-site. For workers who work primarily onsite, consider ways to get people out of their offices and cubicles, and host working sessions that address self-concerns about the change in a shared space. 

As you lean into the three components of human-centered change management, remember that change may not happen overnight, but the decision to change happens in an instant. As change leaders, it is our opportunity to help the organizations we support create environments where those instances happen more frequently and freely because people feel connected, cared for, and like they belong.  That’s caring for the human side of change. That’s human-centered change management. 

Curious to learn more about the importance of connection, compassion, and collaboration in change management? Please email us at [email protected]

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