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Successful change management needs emotions
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Successful change management needs emotions

Nadine Roggensack

Changes in companies happen to us regularly or are partly initiated and accompanied by us.

We often take a purely rational approach to change: We analyze initial situations, define and evaluate solutions for a new status quo. We create detailed action plans and provide training for the targeted behavioral changes expected of the workforce.

In the context of change processes, one important aspect is often neglected: Emotions!

Emotion beats ratio

People react differently to change – some see it as an opportunity to improve things and others are skeptical of it. Change is a human process and people, who are usually “creatures of habit,” are usually resistant to adopting new ways of thinking, practicing, and behaving. Change management is about bringing both types along and not losing anyone on the way to the new.

Getting people to engage and allow behavior change has less to do with logic and more to do with communicating the change in a way that influences their feelings. Change communications must be targeted to each area of the workforce to understand and buy-in to the change at hand.

When implementing change management, therefore, care should be taken to specifically address the emotional world of the people affected and to arouse positive feelings. This can be done by, among other things:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency: those affected must be able to understand why a change will / must take place.
  2. Demonstrating a clear vision and strategy: When it comes to change, people ask themselves what will change for them and what advantages/disadvantages this will bring.
  3. The active involvement of employees in the change process: Collect feedback from employees. Listen to them and respond to their input. The fastest path to acceptance is when employees feel they have contributed to the solution. Possible tools can include Climate Check surveys or retros.
  4. Allowing sufficient time: Time is needed from the initial communication of an impending change to understanding, accepting and living these changes. Time pressure unsettles those affected and puts them under stress. No positive / benevolent thoughts can arise under stress.
  5. Creating a change story: People are visual and respond more strongly to visual language (ideally audiovisual) than to purely verbal communication. Typical questions that are answered as part of a change story:
  • WHERE do we come from, where are we today?
  • WHERE do we want to go and what do we want to achieve?
  • WHY do we want to go there?
  • WHAT is changing at the core?
  • HOW do we make the change?
  • WHAT is expected of me as a person? Change stories can be visualized in a variety of ways, such as videos, comics, or flyers.

Understand the emotional behaviors and align the rational AND emotional elements of organizational change

People go through emotional phases in the course of change (tip: Richard K. Streich’s 7-phase model illustrates how people experience change and react to it. It provides an orientation as to which behaviors are to be expected).

Organizational change will be extremely difficult in most cases if leaders rely only on making arguments for the rational, analytical, and problem-solving side of the brain.

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When leaders ask people to adapt to a new reality, they need to understand the emotional reasons for the change so they can truly commit to the transformation. They need to be shown a clear picture of what the change means to you personally, not just why it will benefit the company.

In reality, most change initiatives are implemented “on” employees, not “with” them, but “by” them.

Be aware that as a leader, you can be a key driver of change or you can slow it down.

My contact

Nadine Ryebag

About the author

Nadine Roggensack
 | Website

Hello, I'm Nadine, an industrial engineer and trained communication psychologist. As an executive and former management consultant, I have gained experience in the conceptualisation, planning and implementation of international digitalisation and transformation projects in various industries over the last ten years. I am very pleased to be able to share my knowledge of operational excellence, organisational development, project management and change management here and at universities.

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