Getting everyone across your organization to accept and implement change effectively can be incredibly difficult. In his book Leading Change, John Knotter reported that a shocking 70% of all change initiatives in businesses fail.
A further study by Geneca found that 75% of participants lacked confidence that their change projects would succeed. While successful change implementation poses a serious challenge to any organization, there are still a variety of techniques to help ease your business through its transition.
One simple and effective technique is the use of change management exercises. These exercises are designed to help employees understand their emotional reaction to change and to aid them in developing a more positive attitude toward the change process.
Here are seven fun and engaging change management exercises.
Cross Your Arms
This exercise is quick and easy, but it still delivers results. Have employees cross their arms as they would naturally. Then have them cross their arms the other way and ask how it feels. Most employees will find this to be awkward and uncomfortable. Afterwards, engage employees in a discussion about why crossing their arms the other way felt uncomfortable, even though it’s basically the same action. Use this as a jumping off point to talk about feelings toward change in general and about the specific changes in the organization.
Alien for Dinner
Have employees work in groups to imagine they are aliens observing a human dinner party. Their task is to point out weird human social norms and compare them to the norms on their imaginary home planet. Why do humans knock their glasses together to celebrate? Why do humans enjoy the taste of poisonous alcohol? The exercise helps to point out that just because something is accepted, that does not mean it is the best or only way of doing something. This activity is fun, creative and helps to cultivate an open mind toward change.
Allow employees to sit wherever they want, then have them get up and move to a completely different seat. Ask them to think about how their perspective in the new seat feels compared to the old one and why. Afterwards, tell employees to get up and stretch for a minute and sit back down wherever they like. If employees go back to their old seats, then ask them why they did that. This is a great way to illustrate our resistance to change. Repeat the exercise again and discuss why people changed how they reacted the second time. This exercise should make employees conscious of their instinctive resistance to change while also reinforcing the idea that change is not necessarily a bad thing.
Gartner Analysts have a similar idea: “Fear of the Unknown: We fear what we don’t understand. It feels “safer” to stay in a place that is uncomfortable, than to move towards an unknown state. Increasing the certainty of what the end-state looks like can decrease this fear. It’s not necessary to get into all the details, but frame the journey from where people are today to where they will be tomorrow. Tell a story about what tomorrow will “feel” like as an employee.”
The Ups and Downs of Change
For this exercise, give each employee a handout and a pen. The handout should have a list of change-related words or phrases, such as “Cancel,” Plan,” “Uncertain” or “Start over,” and beside each word there should be two check boxes: one for positive and one for negative. Employees should go through the list and check off how each word makes them feel. Once the sheets are filled out, take a survey of hands about how everyone felt about each word and discuss why they felt how they did. This exercise is important for understanding our gut reaction to change and starting to see change more positively.
The four P’s stand for project, purpose, particulars and people. In this exercise, employees work in groups and divide a large sheet of paper into four columns, one for each of the P’s. Then they should go through each project and consider why it is being undertaken, what the specific changes required will be and who will be affected. This activity helps to take the uncertainty out of change and breaks it down into small chunks that are easier for employees to handle.
Bouncing Back from Adversity
This is another simple exercise that only requires a few rubber balls (ideally one for each employee) and enough space to bounce them. Divide employees into pairs and have them bounce a rubber ball back and forth for a few minutes. Afterwards, ask them if they were afraid that the ball would just fall back to the ground and not bounce back up. Then explain to the employees that they are like the rubber balls and that no matter how tough a change may seem, they will always be able to bounce back from it. Let them keep the rubber balls as a reminder of this lesson.
Can Do Company
Break employees into groups and assign each group a task as part of a larger product, such as designing, marketing and distributing a candy bar for cats. At different points in the project, change some of the specifications or move members from one group to another. You can also share important information with only one group so that employees have to communicate to work effectively. This exercises helps employees get used to adapting to change and communicating with others through a fun and creative environment.
One of the greatest challenges to a successful change initiative is the natural human resistance to change. These exercises are designed to engage with that resistance in a meaningful way, questioning why we fear change and cultivating a more positive attitude toward new things. With these exercises, employees will start to embrace change, helping to ensure the success of your change initiative.