You can be an agent of healthy change or an inhibitor of it. Learn how to navigate change without “the burning platform” approach.

Change is inevitable, and with the landscape of work experiencing a massive shift, it is critical for leaders to reflect on supporting and actively listening and empathizing with every employee that keeps the machine running. Big changes are part of an organization’s natural progression, and by paying attention to small changes that are a day-to-day occurrence, leaders can shrink the change making it more transparent and manageable for employees. It’s in leaders’ best interest to thoughtfully learn how to navigate change today in preparation for tomorrow.

Humanizing change is a method of proactivity.

A human-centered perspective is a necessary element of healthy change. The approach considers who’s involved in the change process, what value they bring to the dynamic, elements that may currently affect the way they operate, and where their interests lie. Without it, leaders can potentially get in the way of their own interest to innovate and encourage balanced progress.

A proactive approach to leadership requires listening and understanding that employees are not, in fact, machines. They are human and working with what makes each individual unique rather than forcing a preconceived approach to success will open the door to sustainable and meaningful change.

Below, let us explore how to lead well through change, specifically how to motivate others and maximize efforts through humanized change.

How might we: 

  • Develop our definition of healthy change.
  • Understand why the “burning platform” approach to leadership fails.
  • Understand the relationship between purpose and vision.
  • Implement humanized change with thoughtful strategy.

Meaningful Change

As a leader, it’s natural to want to approach change top-down because that’s the vantage point guiding many decisions that leaders historically have relied on. Leaders are expected to utilize past experiences and traditionally want to lead the change as it happens.

Meaningful change doesn’t happen with a top-down approach. Learning to humanize change to allow it to thrive and, more importantly, it will allow that major change to stick. Including people in the change is achieved by listening to their strengths and weaknesses, interests, and concerns and, in doing so, getting the full picture of what they do and who they are. Including every perspective in the organizational change development allows leaders to get a birds-eye perspective of what aspects of that change actually need to take place. What are critical elements of the change that may have been overlooked by those who are not navigating those systems daily? What concerns and fears arise when confronted with this change that, from the top, may not be seen as clearly?  

The Burning Platform

The “burning platform” is a concept widely accepted within business as an approach to motivate people to change. To develop a sense of urgency that makes people want to jump to a better situation. This approach aims to give a final push to those most resistant to change and make them believe that change must happen to survive. 

While storytelling within change communication is important, this framing is not a wise long-term approach to successful change. This approach presents the opportunity for resentment, especially if the change is viewed as unsuccessful down the road.

Rather than intentionally creating a sense of urgency through a negative framework, it’s important to show people that they want to implement change for positive reasons. In other words, they want to be proactive, strategic, thoughtful, and advantageous rather than pressured into the change. This is not to say that we must convince our team that change is easy. Change is never easy, but thoughtful, tactical change is worth the diversion. In fact, this approach to change enables people to look back and realize that they took a risk to innovate, stay ahead of the competition, and grow.

From this perspective, a burning platform seems illogical. Why would we want to feel forced to make a change quickly? It begs the question, “Why weren’t we more strategic from the beginning?”. That position makes it more likely that people lose trust in the organization to innovate consistently. 

Ultimately, innovation happens with strategic, proactive change. A burning platform results from weak leadership and lacking innovation.

The Relationship Between Purpose and Vision

Change has a scary reputation to many due to prior mismanagement of it and the element of the unknown. Change can be good. Change should be good. When evaluating what elements of change fuel resistance to it, empathy is naturally built. Understanding that change often means a shift in pay, expectations at work, and even workload puts leaders in the shoes of each individual in the organization. Actively listening to the worries of the individual will allow a strategy to unfold that embraces the individual rather than silencing them.

LS Purpose to Practice


Get Our LS Purpose to Practice

Starting with practice and ending with purpose, categories are created, clustered, and then voted on. With each step, revisions are made based on the learnings from the previous step.

We may not always know what’s ahead with change, but we can educate the team about our intentions. 

Purpose is necessary context for all involved. First, understanding the “why” before being asked to act on it develops organic and meaningful conversation. Why are we implementing change? Clarifying purpose as a first step in the change process will provide the team with a strong reason to embrace the change and actively work to make it sustainable. Clarity for teams and leaders provides a critical concept that can be held onto throughout the change process. 

Vision is not always clear at the beginning of organizational change. Changes throughout the process are inevitable but can happen if a firm purpose has been laid out in front of the team. Giving individuals a reason to hang in there and be excited about where we can end up through well-executed teamwork alters the path of change. Aligning purpose and vision and understanding this critical relationship develops a foundation for change that is reliable and comforting.

Implementing Humanized Change

Humanized change requires care for individuals. It requires the recognition of value in individual employees. It is not possible to value employees without continually investing in them. This begins with confidence in the hiring process, which includes aligning core values, strengths, and weaknesses, which will inevitably attract meaningful talent. Each member of the team should be invested in appropriately. For leaders and team members, it develops a feeling of excitement about the team’s overall potential. Care for employees’ long-term success builds connected and strong teams, which is important for the organization’s future. Setting this psychologically safe foundation of excitement, investment, and connection will ease any major change down the road. 

Risks/Rewards of Change


Get Our Risks/Rewards of Change

This template helps your team consider both the risk and the rewards of choosing to make a change or choosing to keep the status quo.

Below are a few methods of implementing change. 

Empathy and applied design thinking within change is critical to leadership. As leaders, consider how change affects individuals on a deeper level. What are they losing from this change? Where might they be challenged? For example, are their day-to-day relationship dynamics affected by this change? Are they upset by any of it? Many of the negative emotions associated with change require validation to encourage forward thinking. 

Design a change strategy rather than expect it to unfold and naturally become a success. Resistance is inevitable as change is introduced. By accepting it as a realistic part of change and planning accordingly, it is possible to be as considerate and communicative as possible with every member of the team. 

Change deserves time and thrives with it. We can use time as a tool to progressively implement change rather than drastically altering processes and systems that people are used to operating within. 

Give people something to be excited about. In communicating the purpose, it’s important also to highlight the potential positive consequences. The more the positive changes are outlined, and purpose is clearly identified, the more incentivized people are to work toward the new, common goal. Acknowledge people’s progress throughout the process. People are who they are. Frankly, they’re unlikely to change much, but their morale can be influenced. Humanizing change includes recognizing people for both their efforts and achievements. The daily effort on both ends adds up and can significantly impact how people handle the change process.

As leaders, it is important to keep empathy and strategy top of mind. Organizations thrive with thought leaders and motivated individuals. 

Uncertainty will always exist. Ultimately, the question, “how do I want to position myself and the organization?” will arise. When looking back, organizations will find gratitude in taking strategic risks and being led with humanized change.

A healthy approach to change can seem daunting. We can help you design a people-driven approach to change that enables people to thrive rather than forcing them to shift.

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