Try and Change Culture without Emotion

In an earlier post I spoke about how Tim Minchin knows when he has written a good song or lyric. It gives him the shivers. If it gives him the shivers he knows that his audience will also have a similar reaction. An emotional response. An involuntary response that evokes feeling and fosters change.

Any change cannot occur without recognition of the need to change (too many Dr. Phil episodes have told us this). True change and true cultural change cannot occur unless it affects us or the group at an emotional level. Change is about learning and learning occurs best when it is attached to an emotion.

The best example to illustrate this point is touching a hot stove. If you, as a child, saw a hot plate on a stove and through natural curiosity wanted to know if the hot plate was in fact, hot, you might lean out and touch the hot plate. Because the hotplate is hot, this immediately evokes an emotional response from you that told your psyche that stove hot plates are hot and for safety reasons your body automatically remembers not to touch a hot plate. In this scenario there is no human intervention, just an emotional response (e.g. pain) to remind us never to touch a hot plate again.

Emotions are integral to learning and hence integral to managing change. Just like learning, change and culture are dynamic, constantly morphing and reinventing themselves to deal with new and emerging issues. True change and more specifically true cultural changes comes about when you have investment in that change and the perfect storm, is emotional investment in the change. Funnily enough, in years gone by it was believed that emotions actually impeded learning and change. The evidence now is clear (and our hot plate scenario is a perfect example) – we only expend energy – in this case, learn or change – on things we care about.

This caring, forms the basis for our own creative thinking and invention or change. When we are not happy with something we care about, we naturally want to fix it, make amends, make things right. We look to ways to improve because for the most part we are compassionate, empathetic beings who only wish the best for the people we work with, along with the organisation. Organisations and individuals who seek to invoke change without considering the emotions involved may well be hoisted upon their own petards for treading such waters with contempt for emotion in the change process. Every change involves emotion.

Remember, shivers don’t lie. Shivers indicate an emotional and caring response to a situation that demands attention and management where needed. The next time you want to invoke change, the next time you feel that the culture of your organisation needs to improve, make sure the people (because people manifest culture) you are trying to change, care about the changes and the work environment enough to know that when things do change they too will get the shivers.


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