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Sending strong signals

When going through a big transformation, it is often necessary to shake up the status quo with a strong signal or action. This is because of status quo bias, a psychological phenomenon where people prefer the current way of operating to change even if the status quo is not working. This leads to inertia in the organization and means we sometimes need to send strong signals that show a break with past mindsets and behaviours. While these signals need to be authentic and transparent, they can be planned ahead of time for best effect.

*Note: For this type of action to work, we need to ensure we have built trust with the leadership team and key players across the organization ahead of time. One way of doing so is referenced in the section on building trust and modelling behaviour. In essence we build trust over time through all of the signals we are sending (e.g., are we open to feedback? Have we been transparent with people throughout the process?).

How do we determine our strong signals?

Sending strong signals at key points in the change process may be needed to change mindsets around a particular topic. If we have built trust with the leadership team and key stakeholders, these actions will be significantly more effective.

Strong signals are about challenging the status quo. People may already be overwhelmed with their current duties, let alone a major change. So, it’s important to select the appropriate actions, and choose the right time to employ them.

It’s also important to be flexible with when we choose to use them, and when not to. There are at least two ways we can determine this: paying attention to the tone and messaging in feedback we receive; and, analyzing the current work culture (with this we can determine when/how/if we want to go outside of the comfort zone of our organization).

As well, we can use symbols (and symbolic gestures) as a way of conveying meaning. For example, if we want to have a transparent, open dialogue, choosing a forum that allows for that will help reinforce that message. If we want to articulate a vision for a new, different future, it’s helpful to use images and symbols that are bold and offer a break from the past.

Ultimately, what we are trying to do is create moments of insight for people. These can sometimes be out of their comfort zone. But, the insights can lead to new ways of thinking and to action to move toward our vision. According to psychological and neurological research, the number and intensity of insights can relate directly to the probability of successful change.

Creating moments of insight through powerful questions

One way to generate moments of insight is to ask powerful questions that provoke new ways of thinking. Each question (or set of questions) that will generate a moment of insight is different for each change. That being said, there are some common principles to keep in mind:

  • Asking open-ended questions can yield longer responses and lead to new areas of inquiry
  • Asking a single question at a time will help participants stay focused
  • Asking neutral questions that do not lead to particular answers allows for a full exploration of the possible
  • Repeating back what was heard helps to ensure shared understanding
  • Giving people time to think about their answers will yield better results

Ultimately, what we can do here is facilitate moments of insight among the leadership team and key stakeholders. By sending strong signals (e.g., by asking powerful questions or using symbolic gestures) we can shake up the status quo and inject energy into the change process.

Next steps

With our vision developed, our conditions of success identified and our strong signals determined we can move on to analyzing our context deeper. Understanding our context is crucial when planning and implementing the change.

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