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Change is scary. There’s no way around it. In fact, research says change is significantly more emotional than logical and the same part of the brain that processes decision-making also processes emotion. According to Dr. Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Southern California, damage to the orbitofrontal cortex leaves patients not only unable to process emotions, but they also experience a challenge making even minor decisions.

What does this mean to you and your business? Well, because of the way our brains are wired, our emotions impact our decision-making abilities. Dr. Jennifer S. Lerner, co-founder of Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, substantiates this statement with research proving that emotions constitute powerful, pervasive, and predictable drivers of decision-making.1 So when an organization asks its employees to accept a change-whether that be a merger, new initiative, restructuring, or any number of things-leaders need to understand there are many emotions connected to this ask.

After all, even good changes, whether professional or personal, often spark fear and uncertainty. Will I succeed in my new role? Will I be happy in this new city? Will I have the willpower to stay on my diet?

As leaders we might be thrilled to launch a strategy, but our people may be feeling uncertain and scared. If you can gauge your people’s understanding of a new strategy-and how well it’s resonating-you can actualize the culture shift you need to bring it to life. This is where organizations fall short, again and again.

Yes, There is a Way to Help People Accept Change

While change is inevitable, so is our aversion to it. But as leaders we can do a lot to help our people prepare for, understand, and accept organizational changes. It starts by measuring and addressing our employee’s emotional state. Getting an accurate read on what your people are thinking and feeling isn’t just administering a simple three-question anonymous survey. And it’s more involved than a coffee break chat. Here are three actions leaders must undertake to help their employees:

  • Make sure you allot time for emotions by including emotional measurement in your change strategy.
    What to do: Leaders need to measure an employee’s emotional state, on micro and macro levels, and turn that information into tactical next steps to ensure a lasting change.
  • Dig deep. Don’t evaluate people’s feelings about change based on whether or not they understand the change.
    What to do: Leaders need to measure how people feel about the change, not just what they know about it. After all, how they feel is the primary predictor of whether or not they will actually change!
  • Always have your people’s emotions in mind. They haven’t been focused on the change the way you have been, and this is likely new and unfamiliar territory to them.
    What to do: Leaders need to deliver information in ways to make employees feel comfortable and diminish the fear that would otherwise undoubtedly create execution problems.

The Power of Measuring Emotion in Change

There are many types of quantitative questions leaders can ask in order to get a broad pulse of how an engagement, change, or message is being consumed and perceived within a company. Four great questions for leaders to ask themselves are:

  • What kinds of emotions are different populations experiencing after being introduced to a change?
  • Are more tenured employees more likely to feel excited than less tenured employees?
  • Are more senior roles more likely to feel confident than more junior roles?
  • Which roles have the highest confidence, and which have more doubt?

By asking these questions and answering them honestly, leaders can get a very good understanding of which populations need additional engagement. But this quantitative information only provides part of the picture. We still don’t know what they need. And so we need to ask them. That’s where open-ended questions come in-resolving this conundrum by identifying and comparing how different groups feel. When creating open-ended questions to ask your people, remember to word each question carefully so it is unbiased, not leading, and designed to capture emotion.

Examples of open-ended questions to consider are:

  • Describe in one word how you feel.
    • When people answer this question, you might get a quick overview of the overall sentiment.
    • The answers can be used to gauge immediate sentiment. This emotional reaction helps tell you where and when your change initiative might stall.
  • Based on your current understanding of this change, how confident are you?
    • While all other questions are inwardly focused, this question accounts for other variables.
    • For example, someone might respond, “I may be confident in myself but not confident in my team.”
    • This information can be used to get a full 360° of the change initiative.

Why Is Measuring Emotion in Change so Important?

Measuring emotion in change is a critical part to any change strategy… or at least, it should be. Why? Having the right information can empower leaders to better plan for dilemmas (and we all know that some sort of challenge or dilemma will arise when a change is put into place) that might respond to common messaging, and which issues might require targeted solutions. Knowing this difference is critical for efficient sustainment.

By taking, collecting, and measuring the right data, you can create a plan to empower your people to accept the changes and behaviors you need them to adopt. Your efforts are well worth it, as you’ll be teeing up your people-and the future of your business-for real success.