Strategies for Sparking Change, Part 2

In the second part of this article, I'll share how we can quiet system 1 thinking and engage our system 2 thinking to avoid falling into the "hakuna matata" illusion and waiting for a defining moment before we change.

In addition, I'll provide a strategy and tips on how to awaken employees to the potential of a defining moment and how to create the energy for change.

Disrupting System 1: Creating Defining Moments
The key to disrupting system 1 thinking ("I have a pattern for that—no worries") is to purposefully build in system 2 thinking models, methods, and approaches to solving problems and initiating change.

In his book "The Heart of Change", John Kotter, Ph.D., outlines eight stages of successful large-scale change, which I believe are relevant to all change, including personal and professional. Kotter states, "The single most important message in this book is simple. People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings."

Kotter and Deutschman agree that the typical formulae for change—analysis – think – change and facts – fear – forcedon't work. And the consequences of these formulas is they create increased psychological and emotional resistance to all future change efforts.

Instead, they found, based on their experience and research, methods that facilitated the process of change. Kotter calls his see – feel – change and Destschman's model is relate – repeat – reframe. These approaches had a demonstrable and measurable positive impact on the process because they first emotionally convey the meaning and purpose for the change, which then creates a higher level of acceptance and ownership for the process.

See – feel – relate combines the best of both methods.

The See – Feel – Relate Change Strategy for Leaders
  • Pull together a work team. Identify a small number of people who have the ability to visualize, sense, and create stories. Look for employees from all levels of the organization with the following strengths: curiosity, creativity, and empathy.
  • Have the team search your industry for examples of hazards and risks that have gone wrong and resulted in costly accidents (defining moments).
  • Review and research these external incidents to identify the root causes. Pay particular attention to the human factors involved.
  • Review your internal incident database, especially safety near-misses. Note the relationship between your in-house incidents and near misses with the external incidents that resulted in accidents.
  • Ask your team to storyboard the external incidents with your internal incidents and highlight similar circumstances and conditions that have relevance to your operations. The purpose is to create stories that demonstrate the potential of a defining moment at your organization and therefore the urgency to take action.
  • Involve employees in creating stories that have positive safety outcomes by addressing the conditions and issues that were the root causes as well as the contributing factors in the incidents.
  • The stories must engage and lead employees to the conclusion that they have been fortunate that a defining moment has not struck the organization and that everyone's involvement is critical in preventing a serious and costly defining moment.
  • Utilize the stories in employee meetings to show the urgency and the need to build stronger safety awareness, engagement and commitment

Emotion and Community
Two critical aspects of the above strategy are the use of stories to engage, teach, and enlist people's actions by connecting with people's emotions and to create a shared purpose—the basis of community. The titles of Kotter's "The Heart of Change" and Deutschman's "Change or Die" evoke emotions as a way to capture our attention. Both titles get us out of the thinking parts of our heads and into the feeling parts of our heads. The essence of both Deutschman's and Kotter's message can be summarized in the following Kotter quote: "… changing organizations depends overwhelmingly on changing the emotions of their individual members." 

What purpose does a defining moment serve? It changes the emotional climate of an organization by capturing the emotions of its individual members. It's not the moment that creates the urgency for change and gets employees to relate to each other more caringly; it's the emotions and feelings that the moment evokes that creates the urgency for change. These shared emotions are the foundations for building community—shared emotional experiences bind people together in a common purpose. The key is to capture this opportunity to initiate and sustain a change process that significantly affects the organization's level of awareness, commitment, and ownership to safety.

But we don't have to wait for a defining moment to create the urgency for change. We can disrupt system 1 thinking and our preference for "hakuna matata" by communicating a sense of significance and urgency around near-misses and other leading indicators—these are defining moments. Bring employees together and create a community of shared purpose in which they can provide feedback and input and affect change. The answer to the question, "How can I avoid a defining moment?" is don't wait—CREATE by committing to and engaging your organization in a see – feel – relate change method.

Tom Wojick is the founder and president of The Renewal Group, dedicated to awakening, inspiring, and empowering human motivation and potential in the workplace – the key to a thriving safety culture. It is located in Cranston, R.I. To learn more, visit

Posted on Oct 04, 2016

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