Many of us have been at a company’s strategy day or in a meeting where the leader enthusiastically presents a new idea or direction for the business. Emergy’s partner and master trainer Ira Leppänen reminds us that enthusiasm cannot be forced from the outside; what is more crucial is to stop and consider people’s real emotions.
Whether it’s about mergers and acquisitions, a new strategy, or another significant change in the company’s business, it always brings about various emotions in people. According to Leppänen, strong situational awareness and empathy are required from the leader to understand what the prevailing emotional state and atmosphere are.
“If people feel let down, nervous, or that they have been treated unjustly, they don’t simply want to get excited.”
Leppänen notes that sometimes a leader’s enthusiasm can have the opposite effect if people feel the leader doesn’t understand their daily lives.
“People need time to think about what makes them fearful or skeptical. It’s best if the leader is able to talk personally about any concerns they might have about the change.”
Genuine positivity should also not be forgotten.
“If there is a chance to acknowledge real successes and marinate in the positivity, that opportunity should be taken. However, it’s important to check if these successes are meaningful to everyone and awaken genuine joy, or are they only important to the leader.”
Strategy Change from Words to Practice
The credibility of the strategy is influenced by, among other things, the success of previous strategy processes and participation. In her training workshops, Leppänen often goes through how to successfully implement changes at a practical level.
“It’s crucial to allow time for everyone to form their own understanding. Leaders and team leaders must have time to discuss and listen to what the new strategy means for their team members. You can’t just rush into an implementation plan.
Involvement of the team members in the decision-making stage already helps in committing to the strategy. The more an individual feels heard, understood, and valued, the easier it is for them to adjust to the new situation, which often requires personal efforts and learning new things.
“‘What will happen next? What does this really mean for me?’ These are questions that need enough time for discussion. Negative feelings should be looked at openly. Only through honest discussions can an individual understand how their contribution affects the whole picture.”
Leppänen emphasizes that negative emotions should not be feared.
“If you learn to accept them as part of the change process and take time to pause and consider what in this change causes doubt and fear for each individual, it may be that curiosity towards the change occurs almost as a byproduct. Not by pushing or forcing.”
The following seven key factors that affect people’s perception and engagement with a new business strategy:
Each of us wants to be interesting to some extent: to be seen and heard. Have people genuinely been heard during the planning and implementation phases of the strategy?
Being understood can be more important than solving the issue. Talking about concerns and truly understanding them requires its own space before one can genuinely commit to the change.
The strategy becomes alive through people’s actions. Therefore, everyone’s role in the new strategy is important — regardless of position. It should not be taken for granted that people will adopt the new strategy as their own. It should be like a courtship-like invitation to a new journey, not a top-down announcement that this is how your life will change — whether you like it or not.
People have a built-in need to be treated fairly in their brains. In the implementation of the strategy, feelings of injustice can be caused by inconsistent communication about changes, or the feeling that not everyone is being heard or included equally. “I understand that this feels unfair to you.” Even if the situation can’t be changed, voicing it can provide relief. The experience of fairness often arises as a result of a fair process.
We all want to feel that we somehow control our lives. Big, externally imposed decisions affecting our lives can quickly weaken the sense of control and thus give rise to shame, fear, and anxiety.
Making progress visible is one of the best ways to fuel people’s internal motivation. If the new strategy seems to render all recent efforts pointless, one could collectively consider whether this is really the case or whether something useful has been learned. Even after the new strategy, it’s good to set small sub-goals, with which successes can be celebrated together.
The sense of purpose is a key motivational factor in work and learning — also in the midst of big changes. People are most motivated when they feel they are making progress in work that has meaning as part of a broader whole.