Episode #13

Framing Change for Success: From Fear to Possibility

with Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson

Leaders have a critical choice to make when initiating change. How they frame and communicate the change impacts how it’s received and embraced by the organization. Understanding the motivation behind change – whether it’s a wake-up call, a threat, a vision of something different, or an inspiration – is paramount. 

Our episode begins with a thought-provoking question from Charles, a seasoned change management consultant. Charles is grappling with a challenging scenario where leaders have framed a crucial change in negative, threatening terms. The fear and uncertainty this has generated are casting a long shadow over the change process. Rumors are rife, fear and anxiety fuel decision-making and communications, and progress seems to have stalled. 

So, how can we navigate this situation? What strategies can we employ to shift the narrative from fear to possibility? These questions are at the heart of today’s discussion.  

We’ll explore the human dynamics when change is announced in compelling and positive terms versus negative terms. We’ll discuss strategies for how to turn things around if the initial launch message is threatening and delve into the rationale for leaders consciously focusing on what is possible to co-create when the outcome is successful. 

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Video of Episode


04:19 – 07:06

Welcome to Ask Dr. Change.

07:22 – 10:03

I’m Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson.

10:15 – 17:07

I’m happy to have you join me today to explore how to seriously up level your leadership and consulting to transformational changes all through conscious change leadership.

23:23 – 45:10

Welcome. Today’s episode is about understanding the impact of why change are you moving to something or are you moving away from something? What’s important here is how much we really understand about what’s motivating the organization to make this particular change.

45:10 – 01:09:23

Today’s question is from Charles, a senior change management consultant. Charles Right. The reason our leaders have given us for this change is about avoiding a huge threat to our business. If we don’t dot, dot, dot. And if you don’t, dot, dot, dot. Now, everyone is afraid to take action and fail. Rumors abound.

01:09:23 – 01:13:10

What do we do to alter this situation?

01:13:10 – 01:19:13

Well, Charles, it’s a great question and it really triggers the purpose of our conversation today.

01:19:15 – 01:50:17

Leaders actually have a strategic choice to make when conceiving of change and certainly when announcing it. What they decide impacts how the change will be received and supported by the organization. It’s a significant factor. So I ask you to think about this. What started the need to make a change? Was it a wakeup call? A threat? A possibility of something different?

01:50:19 – 02:22:08

Or an inspiration? Wow. If we could only do this, each has a different impact on you, on the leaders, and on stakeholders. Given Charles’s situation, it’s a lot easier to shape the communication message first and then to course correct it if need be. But if you need to course correct it because you shaped a negative, threatening challenge DJing message, it’s a lot more difficult.

02:22:10 – 02:49:23

I have a couple of stories just to communicate and reveal the impact of this. With one health care organization we served, their change was framed as avoiding adverse events for patients at all costs. The impact of that was all the physicians and nurses went out and got malpractice insurance and it really instituted a. Looking over your shoulder, are you doing that right?

02:49:23 – 03:06:23

Are you doing that right? So the avoidance of adverse effects had a negative impact on the culture, the climate, relationships and communications. In another example of negative in a police organization. When we

03:06:23 – 03:31:06

got their request, it was about avoiding lawsuits, about racial and gender bias. Do whatever we need to do to avoid lawsuits. Well, how different would it have been if their choice had been to increase a culture of diversity, of inclusion, of support for differences?

03:31:08 – 04:10:21

Very different outcome. But their change was framed as avoid lawsuits. Couple of positive stories. In one government organization, we worked with a federal agency in Canada. They were about modernizing, easing access to constituent information to be a one stop shop for all the information for a constituent through a technology upgrade to an easy to navigate portal. So one stop shop, all information is for customer, is for for constituents, very important and positive move.

04:10:23 – 04:59:06

Another positive example, a utility that we worked with at length, was about transforming towards a safe, reliable, affordable, renewable energy source. Electricity in this case. And so all of those words were very motivating, very inspiring to that organization. So I ask you from these stories, what is your motivation? What’s behind the change that you are serving? So it’s important to reflect on for those of you that have had the experience like Charles story about what occurs, what is the result of a change is community rated in threatening or negative terms.

04:59:08 – 05:01:17

There’s a lot to consider here.

05:01:17 – 05:23:12

the message becomes hard to understand, hard to hear. It’s threatening. Perhaps there are a lot of questions or a profound silence that’s even worse. Lots of times, challenging assumptions show up. There’s a lot of. But but but, you know, we did this. We did that. Can’t we do this? There’s a lot of push back.

05:23:12 – 05:59:07

So to speak. It’s very hard to align constructive action. People don’t quite know what to do that will support the change. Charles is an example, also supports that people don’t really know how to act if it’s going to lead to potentially failure or slow down. Inevitably there’s a lot of fear, anxiety, resistance, rumors hard to address. In some organizations, their choice is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, with which is a negative response.

05:59:09 – 06:26:02

We’ve been doing all this all this time. You don’t want us to do it anymore. Okay. Gone. That that removes the possibility that some of what they were doing is really actually needed and positive. Lots of feelings of fear, of failure to occur. And it’s hard to sometimes recognize that and to know that it is there. So what’s required is a paradigm shift for leaders.

06:26:04 – 06:47:12

And again, to restate that paradigm shift is about framing the message around change so that we are going for something we choose versus running from something that is frightening us, scaring us, threatening us. It’s a paradigm shift and an important one that we can support.

06:47:12 – 06:55:09

So how do you turn around a situation like Charles situation and when that negative message is already out there?

06:55:11 – 07:22:10

I want to give you a series of steps and aspects to think about if you have the opportunity to influence. Well, let’s start there. Do you have relationships with sponsors so that you could actually go talk with them about the impact of a communication? Perhaps challenge them, perhaps educate them? Do you have the access to be able to go talk with them?

07:22:12 – 07:44:19

In my early days, when I knew I had to go talk to the AT in this case the president about a change he was initiating, I went to my boss, who was the EVP of Admin and Human Resources, and we went together. He understood I had access to him and we went together. So perhaps you can do that.

07:44:20 – 08:22:14

Let’s assume you can get a meeting. Let’s assume you can have this conversation first thing in the conversation is to set context for it about shifting the message while retaining people’s motivation to change. So that’s the outcome that you’re after. It would be important to describe the reactions you’re observing in the organization. In neutral terms, so it doesn’t provoke defensiveness or in any negative shame on behalf of the leader who made the message, who put the message out there.

08:22:16 – 08:45:10

So neutral terms, people are concerned. An absence of the word. They’re afraid. They’re hysterical. They’re terrorized. So the people are concerned. They are confused. Things that the leader can hear and find constructive value in understanding. That’s the impact of what the message has created.

08:45:10 – 08:53:17

Another strategy is then to offer different scenarios for new communications, positive ones.

08:53:19 – 09:26:05

What’s in it for us to do this? What’s in it for you is leadership. What’s in it for our stakeholders? We’ll get back to this. That’s an important one. Here’s the possibility of what we’re attempting to do. And so to put more meat on the bones of any of those frames so that they are attractive, compelling, inviting and even enticing, it’s important to suggest compelling language that the stakeholders will actually relate to.

09:26:07 – 09:53:23

So is the change around increasing their safety, increasing their competence to deliver, giving them more power or more influence, more input, greater clarity, whatever the positive benefit is to the stakeholders? That’s language you want to use. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t also describe if there is in fact a threat. If it’s real, it needs to be described.

09:54:01 – 10:20:09

But it can be also done in neutral terms, not to negate its power, but so that it doesn’t entice or excite threat and upset. You can have both, but your focus is on the positive. That’s acknowledging this is what we’re up against. This is the challenge we have. And this is what we’re going for. Focus on the positive.

10:20:11 – 10:56:06

Always offer support to frame new communications and always confirm a next step in your process to talk further because you always want to stay on top of the reactions in the organization. And when additional communications come out, especially one that course corrects or shifts the focus of the change. So what is compelling to stakeholders? What are the kinds of things you can put into a message to make it more positive, more compelling about the change that’s being launched?

10:56:08 – 11:30:10

What can you say that would have stakeholders choose to make this change? So I have a variety of things to mention to you. First up is how do you make the change relevant and meaningful? Relevant is about having a stakeholder realized that their work, their contribution fits and serves something larger than them, what the whole organization is about, or what their department is about, or what the community needs, that there is a larger context that they contribute to.

11:30:10 – 12:01:08

That’s relevance. Meaning is more personal. It’s What does it mean to me? How does it impact me? How do I make sense of what is being done here and how do I fit into it? That’s an important one. Help stakeholders to find themselves in the change. What will they be doing? What will it be like for them when the new reality is in place That also gives them relevance and meaning?

12:01:10 – 12:34:14

You might also talk with them about what our future actually will look like when we put this in place so they can imagine that it’s not just words. They can actually imagine the organization functioning in the new reality. Another strategy is to talk about what’s possible if we can create this together. Having a senior leaders say, I need you, I need your best input, I need your contribution.

12:34:16 – 13:11:02

I’m I’m recalling an experience we had that was very moving with back when the electric utilities were deregulating. So it goes back a little ways. And the the CEO of this particular large electric utility was realizing that he had never led this organization in a direct related environment, only in a regulated environment. So he was attempting to engender greater participation and input from his people.

13:11:04 – 13:38:18

And he announced in a major visioning meeting, I need you. I’ve never lived in a deregulated environment. We have to figure this out together so that we can continue to grow and be successful and thrive and expand in our new reality. But I don’t have experience in that reality, so I need you. Very powerful message, very powerful frame.

13:38:20 – 14:10:21

You might also describe the new reality working effectively, working perfectly so that people can say, I get what it’s supposed to be like, and then asking, What can you contribute to that? What do you want to do in this new reality? What would turn you on? What would make it exciting for you to do this? You may need to tailor to different groups, different audiences, different stakeholder groups because their needs or their contribution is different.

14:10:23 – 14:41:17

Also very important to do. You might ask them, How do we want to be seen by our customer or by our community, our constituents, by the media, so that we are seen in a positive light rather than the usual criticism. So many organizations get from external sources, so be thinking about how do we want to be seen and how what do we need to do to accomplish that.

14:41:19 – 15:15:18

And you might also talk about the values that the change demonstrates and supports. This is about being more adaptable, more open, more empowered, working in greater partnership. There’s a whole variety of values that the organization may have that the change furthers demonstrates and models very important. So I want you to think about how you are framing the communications around the change efforts you are supporting.

15:15:20 – 15:42:12

And is there a way to influence, if it’s gone out the door in a negative way? Is there a way of influencing it to go in a more positive, constructive light? And if so, how can you position yourself to be able to move the impact, the energy, the receptivity of the stakeholders of the organization towards a more positive, constructive future?

15:42:12 – 15:49:13

so I promised you a pro tip today, and our topic is relevant to today’s subject.

15:49:15 – 16:16:20

Change is easier when it’s vision and choice driven, then when it is fear or threat driven. Think about your current strategy. Think about what the sponsors and project leaders have communicated, how much of what they have shared is compelling to your stakeholders. Is it possible that you can be the one to frame the change effort in positive energy and context?

16:16:22 – 16:42:23

Can you actually ask questions? Frame discussions in ways that people find value, find the outcome compelling instead of just working on the project to solve its problems and do do the basic change work, it can be done in a very different light. If it’s done with a positive context, you create the positive frame,

16:43:03 – 17:09:17

My personal reflection for you is about you reflecting on what motivates you more. Fear or choice? What energizes you the most? How does this show up in your life? You’re acting out of fear of not having a job or getting sick or or acting out of a choice. Having a thriving, healthy family, a great,

17:09:17 – 17:11:22

enjoyable life. You know?

17:11:22 – 17:19:15

Are your choices for something or against something? Now, I know my listeners are around the world,

17:19:15 – 17:26:15

For those of you familiar and ask you to reflect on the political landscape here in the United States,

17:26:15 – 17:38:00

We are so divided here about against versus for. And this is truly at play in what’s happening in here in our own country.

17:38:02 – 18:09:22

You can think about it in terms of the political landscape in your own country or your own city. And are your leaders working towards creating something positive for the community or the country, or are they working against each other and tearing each other down? Very, very different impact. Now, you can’t have both because both exist, you know, threat and possibility, but it’s what you focus your attention on.

18:10:00 – 18:12:01

So again, personal reflection.

18:12:01 – 18:21:07

Where are you putting your attention? How does that feel to you? How does it land on you? Can you sustain it?

18:21:07 – 18:36:06

I invite you to give yourself permission to go for the possible, to go for the choice and to go for creating or co-creating something that will have a lasting positive impact on your life.

18:36:06 – 18:40:12

Thanks for spending time with me today. I hope you found some value.

18:41:00 – 18:56:19

Today’s subject is one of the key topics that we feature in our leading transformational change online program. If you’d like to learn more about leading transformation social change, go to beingfirst.com/LTC.

18:59:08 – 19:11:22

Thanks for spending some time with me today. I hope you gain some valuable insights for your work. Please send me your questions and challenges by going to askdrchange.com.



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