Often there are two driving forces behind managing change, logic and emotion. The first is typically a number crunching exercise. With logic we say, “The data clearly shows us we can save a lot of money by making this change” or “Out with the old and in with the new, the numbers tell us it is time to change”. With emotions, which relates to experiences in the past, present or perceived future, we say, “It’s not about the money” or “I do not want to change because I like it the way it is today”. Unfortunately logic and emotions conflict with one another which makes managing change and change management challenging. Most of us plan for change by relying heavily on logic because number crunching is a simple exercise. Unfortunately relying on logic routinely underestimates the emotional power associated with change. Many of our projects fail because we avoid the concepts of change management of listening, understanding, and addressing the emotional impacts on managing change.
There is a great metaphor, The Elephant and the Rider, which explores the logical and emotional dilemma associated with managing change. Let’s imagine that you are instructed to take the quickest route to a desired location. Knowing that you do not have a lot of time, you identify the most logical route to reach your destination as quickly as possible. In this metaphor, your mode of transportation is an elephant, which you are highly skilled at riding. As the rider of the elephant, you represent logic because you believe that you are in control because you hold the reins and you mapped out the most efficient route.
As you start your journey, the elephant quickly goes off the instructed path, defying your directions. You are now on a different route that is clearly going to take a lot more time. The elephant, which represents emotions, is going to take you on the path that meets his needs. What you failed to understand when you mapped out the most logical route was taking into consideration the elephant’s experience with the path you chose. The elephant recently had a bad experience with your route therefore he is not going to follow your directions. It is not hard to imagine who gets the better of whom when there is some disagreement about which way to go. No matter how good your plan is, the emotional elephant will always win because he is far more powerful. In your initial planning, if you took the time to understand the elephant’s emotions, you could have identified a win-win route that meets both of your needs.