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Thursday, 22 May 2014 00:00

Do 'Empathy' and 'Business Results' Really Go Together? Yes.

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When a business needs to change dramatically, in order to stay in business or stay competitive in a changing marketplace, it can wreak havoc on employees.  Even the best top performers can find themselves struggling to keep pace with the change and return to a state of equilibrium.  However, the quicker that employees can return to that equilibrium, the quicker the organization will see the positive results of the change.

Many people think that the best way to encourage employees to return to business as usual is to ignore the 'feelings' around a dramatic change and focus strictly on the tasks at hand.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  Change always raises emotional issues, whether in our professional or personal lives, and companies which acknowledge this will find employees much more receptive to - and better equipped to deal with - even the most dramatic changes.

By injecting change efforts with a little empathy for employees, leaders have an opportunity to positively influence the movement of individuals through the change process.  In their book, Aftershock, Harry Woodward and Steve Buchholz present an effective 3-part model for helping individuals through change:  Clarify; Share; Engage.

Clarify:  The first step toward empthy is to Clarify the issues and concerns an individual may have with the changes taking place.  It starts with listening - both to what's said and what's not said.  At this stage, it's not about refuting concerns, but to clarify that you understand them.  Most people's concerns about change stem from a fear of the unknown, and simply listening and clarifying those concerns by using active listening questions like "What do you fear losing?" and "What would you like to gain?" can help them move past their fears.  This is the beginning of empathy: When you engage in active listening and demonstrate you've heard and understand their concerns, individuals begin to feel they're not alone - which makes it easier for them to move forward into unknown or changing territory.

Share:  In the second stage of this model, you can focus on sharing your understanding of what's happening with the organization.  The key is to relate what you're sharing back to the concerns expressed in the 'Clarify' stage - don't just repeat the company 'party line' about the changes in a generic way, but make it specific and personal.  Even if you can't directly dispel every individual concern (you may not be able to guarantee their job, position or responsibilities), the fact that you're being honest and straightforward will make a big difference.

Engage:  Once you've clarified and shared - and hopefully calmed some of the individual's worst fears by demonstrating empathy for them - you're in a position to gain their commitment to move forward with you (and the organization) through the changes.  Engagement is the root of ownership:  when an individual engages in the process, they can take ownership of their role in the success of the change - and this helps them feel more in control of the process.  Ask them for ideas on how to successfully implement change; create an individual action plan, together; come up with ways to implement their ideas.  The more the individual feels like a valued, crucial part of the change, the more they can focus on what they'll gain rather than what they'll lose.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that business change management has to start with weekly therapy sessions for employees in order to be successful.  However, providing a little empathy - especially at the beginning of the change process - can significantly reduce change resistance while encouraging rapid adoption of change.  In fact, in my experience empathy can actually reduce implementation time and cost by as much as 25% over the change cycle.  And that's a 'business result' everyone can appreciate.

 

Read 8263 times Last modified on Friday, 23 May 2014 15:59

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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