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  • Writer's pictureKait Dinunzio

Managing Change Memory

mem·o·ry /ˈmem(ə)rē/

noun noun: memory; plural noun: memories

  1. the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.

  2. something remembered from the past; a recollection.


We are emotional beings.

Emotions have an incredible impact on all of our cognitive processes including how we perceive situations, pay attention and how we learn, remember and reason. This all links together and ultimately provides us with the ability (or inability) to solve problems. Emotion has a relatively strong interplay with our memory in that it encodes and helps us retrieve information efficiently.

The areas of the brain that neurologically store our memory functions are the hippocampus and parahippocampal regions. These two areas of the brain collaborate with certain parts of the cerebral cortex to build, store and retrieve memories. This includes the details of the memories, such as sight, taste, sound and smell. (Fun fact: did you know the brain has over 350 receptors to help us recollect smell? And in fact, smell is one of the senses that activates some of our oldest memories, even from childhood - think about the smell of your favourite Crayola crayons, or perhaps Playdough - they most often than not bring comfort in uncomfortable situations!)

When we take the above into consideration, it really shows a dynamic opportunity to embrace how we manage change inside of organizations.

With organizations that historically perform change well, you find a resilient population that has the ability to embrace change and walk toward the roar together. These organizations are not without resistance, it's just that they normalize it and allow people to feel heard in their thoughts and emotional responses to change. These types of organizations often prepare their people a little better and have a standard, observed process of how change is implemented, thus giving impacted folks a predictable experience with change. This can be a powerful experience!

When you have organizations that are ad hoc, inconsistent or lacklustre with their approach to managing change, you'll find mixed pockets of change resiliency and change memory across the organization. This can often lead to a "flavour of the month" type of feeling, which can lead to apathy, disengagement and ultimately significant resistance and lack of adoption. These responses to change are more than just killers to the return on investment in change, they're also a killer to morale and may leave people feeling emotionally and mentally drained.

Change can be hard for some people - it can challenge our ability to execute our work (purpose) and can impact our self-confidence, emotional regulation and problem-solving skills. Having a well thought out, people-centric change strategy is crucial to establishing a positive change memory for people, even in organizations where change leadership/change management is ad hoc or more often than not, an afterthought. Establishing the right frame of mind in your organization or project is important,... even if the change seems small to you, it may be something bigger to others; you never know what people are experiencing in their day-to-day work, lives or mental health. It's imperative that organizations consider the whole person when planning for change.

People are like elephants when it comes to a negative change experience - they forget nothing!! So how can you help create a more consistent, acceptable (if not positive) change memory for people to reflect on?

Here are some of my top tips:

  • Define "Why and Why Now" - Why are you changing? And why does the change have to happen now? Does it fit into a larger program of change? Is it going to help advance the company? Will it enable leaders to make better business decisions? Be as crisp with your messaging as possible and keep it consistent. (Also recognize that "shareholder value" isn't a change platform that many people can rally behind, if you know what I'm sayin'....)

  • Use your Top Five diagnostics - Take the time to understand the current state and define the future state; this will also encompass your Why and Why Now. The gap between the two states of being is the change that needs to be explained and/or managed. Once you understand that, assess your stakeholders and impacts and perform your Readiness Assessment. These tools are essential in creating the blueprint for your change strategy and tactical plans.

  • Get creative - Don't stop at a communications and training plan - open your mind to engaging people through social networks, using new technology hacks and where you can, gameify opportunities for people to enjoy themselves during the change.

  • Invite participation - Lean into your leadership and resiliency skills and give people the permission to participate in shaping the outcomes of the change. Allowing people to help shape the change with their feedback is a small, yet underutilized method of creating quality engagement. (Side note: One-on-one discussions go a long way!)

  • Use storytelling - If you launch a change network or engage with stakeholders personally, ask them to share their greatest change memory and their worst change memory. Be a second mouse and avoid the traps that people have experienced in the past.

  • If something goes wrong, acknowledge it - Don't hide behind buzz words, anonymous surveys or simply dismiss an error or something going sideways. These "I told you so" moments in change can be a hard pill to swallow, but accepting the feedback or responsibility is a huge deal.

  • Keep momentum - Don't let competing priorities take your time from the change program. Perseverance is one of the most valuable tools you have in change and without it your change can become undermined very quickly!

  • Invite honest feedback - welcome your stakeholders to share their true feelings about the change. It's hardly ever personal ... unless you make it personal!

  • Close out your change when it's done - Don't leave folks hanging or allow the change to have an ambiguous "end state" - when you've hit the end of the project or when you're transitioning to operations, take the time to communicate and engage with people to let them know it's done and moving to a new phase.

  • Don't forget to celebrate - One of the biggest pitfalls I see in change is we don't celebrate enough! Take the time to build in celebrations or acknowledgements when things go well or teams excel within the change!

Want to discuss how to harness emotions and improve the change memory of your organization? Reach out, a call doesn't cost a thing!

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