Perception Trumps Reality

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My friends went to West Virginia each year for a white water rafting trip. I made excuses each year and didn’t go because I was scared. I swim exclusively to save my life, not for recreation, and I hate roller-coasters. As far as I could tell white water rafting in the highest difficulty rated rapids in the world fell under the category of propelling myself toward death. That was my perception.

I finally decided to go one year (that’s not me in the photo btw). We camped the night before. Everyone else slept under the stars. I was wide awake all night. Terrified. My perception was playing in my mind all night.

To slim down a long story, once we got on the river and the first little tiny rapid hit me in the face I transformed into a river rat, mountain man, crazy fan of white water. My perception changed. My wife and I even spent our honeymoon on rivers throughout Alaska.

The reality never changed. The river was the same the day before I experienced it. It would not have changed if I didn’t go. The only thing that changed was my perception.

Leading Change

The river is like your change initiative. It is what it is. Hopefully, your project team will make it fabulous and feature rich. Your job as the change leader is to ensure that perceptions are addressed as you lead your constituents through the tumultuous waters and a successful change. You’re changing perceptions.

Understanding that each person experiencing the change has a unique perception is the magic secret to leading change well.

What goes into someone’s perception? Personality style, risk tolerance, related experience, current environment, and their future view all contribute to their perception of the change.

The big problem is that most organizational changes a person experiences are not pleasant. This carries over to the new change initiative. Right from the beginning if it’s change the perception is that it will be painful, like the previous changes.

Just doing things differently sets the stage for addressing this high level perception that change is painful. Some of the ways to show you are doing things differently – involving top level talent, creative and consistent communication, engaging rather than just telling, concern about workflows and identifying the best ways, and asking for input are just some of the ways to show that this change is different.

Next, it’s necessary to get specific and tailor your approaches.

Know who each person is. Even if your constituent population is in the thousands.

Identify perceptions. Use Change Breakthrough Analysis to identify perceptions. You might be surprised.

Communicate. Use what you learn about existing perceptions to guide your communication content.

Differentiate. Determine who needs to be thrown into the deep-end with support and who needs to go slower. Accommodate with plans for engagement that consider perceptions.

None of this is easy which is why we have decided to automate the process. We’re building an enterprise system called Constituent Hub. Stay tuned. Let me know how you influence perceptions.

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» Change Leadership, Leadership » Perception Trumps Reality
On April 28, 2015
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