The best kept secret by successful change consultants: The ELSA change framework (part 2)

In the first part of this article, I showed you the science behind the ELSA change framework. From my perspective, teaching mindsets and IT frameworks such as Agile or Scrum is important but without an adequate change framework, any alteration in behaviors and ways of working in the company will be slower and will increase resistance.

In this second part, I will show you—in a practical way—how the powerful ELSA change framework works. Remember that you can learn more about advanced techniques that accelerate business transformation in my book Leading Exponential Change.

Imagine a perfect day in your workplace, a day when that change you have in mind is already underway. People have fallen in love with your idea and they are inspired by what’s happening. What behaviors do you see in that vision? What’s happening? What are people saying? What makes them happy? What inspires them?

Now close your eyes and use your five senses to envision that scene again.

The ELSA change framework focuses on picturing that perfect day (event) before making any change in the organization. This crucial element distinguishes it from other change frameworks. Many companies solve one problem after another until they gradually reach the ideal situation. But doing so prevents them from experiencing the entire future event in the present, because they are unable to visualize the change in its totality. This limits the solutions and the actions taken. Everyone’s energy is focused on solving the next problem, impeding them from fully using their senses during the implementation of the plan.

Visualizing and feeling an event as an ideal day allows you to connect that experience with powerful and inspiring phrases, associate words with good memories (priming), and discover new emotions.

Many find it difficult to let their imagination fly to visualize that ideal day. Pixar Animation Studios, the creators of movies such as Toy Story and Cars, believes that we are all capable of using our imagination to find more creative solutions. It just takes a little practice.

As a sponsor or leader of the initiative, you and the others will be the main characters of the movie featuring that perfect day. You must be able to picture the future event as a series of short stories that connect emotions with what matters to those who should change.

Perhaps you feel that the first story that comes to mind isn’t powerful enough to motivate those around you. It’s true that imagining really good stories requires preparation and practice.

Pixar, for example, uses an iterative approach to its films. Stories and characters are reinvented several times before they reach the screen. This iterative approach not only supports creativity and imagination, but it also helps people improve how they transmit a message.

You should also imagine that perfect day in different ways, and you should use different perspectives. Movie creators at Pixar ask an initial question that might also help you imagine that perfect day. They simply ask, What if?

This question supports creativity and imagination, and it strengthens the desire to experience different types of stories and emotions.

Here are some examples:

  • What if on that ideal day every team were multifunctional and everyone enjoyed their daily tasks?
  • What if on that ideal day a change was seen as a learning opportunity? What if on that ideal day the customers enjoyed visiting and interacting
  • with the new products or services?

This practice not only helps to create the initial story, but it also allows us to start looking for the right approach to connect people with the perfect day. Once you can visualize and feel the event, you are ready to take the second step: to start creating the right language to support what you have envisioned.

It doesn’t matter where you are—we are surrounded by things that inspire and make us dream: words, stories, and emotions that are impactful and that the people you want to change will enjoy hearing. Remember that powerful stories are conveyed with specific, relevant information (numbers, analogies, etc.) that inspire people and connect them with a shared positive purpose.

You can prime people by sharing stories about something pleasant that has happened in the company. You can also use near-present time and words that begin to shape that ideal situation. Now think about how you communicate your messages. What changes should you make for your message to be more powerful?

Once comfortable, you can start sharing your message through informal channels so that it’s received quickly.

Support yourself with people who are fully trusted by the recipients of the change or who are respected within the company. To do this, you’ll have to ensure you have the right conditions (Structures) so that communication flows informally among people.

It may be necessary to create a more informal workplace so that people can meet face-to-face about the upcoming change. At some companies, it might be a matter of setting up an area for people to talk. At another, it could entail reducing the workload and giving workers some downtime.

You must identify the structures and small changes that are necessary in your company so that people want to talk informally and spread the new language and powerful stories. Every place is different, and you will need to reflect with others on what’s most needed.

Finally, you’ll have to make sure that changes in the company structures are not made solely by management, but that employees also have explicit permission (Agency) to take over and improve them. When trying out new ideas or ways of working to achieve that ideal day, employees should feel safe, even if they fail.

As you can see, ELSA works in a way that is contrary to other change frameworks: it starts by envisioning an ideal day, leading us to employ adequate language to provoke a change instead of first modifying processes or rules.

The language used must inspire and open the path for change. You may also need to make small changes in the office layout to encourage informal conversations. Keep in mind that ELSA is not only useful for applying small alterations in your company. It’s also a powerful tool that enables any future states to be achieved progressively, little by little.

To this end, ELSA makes change plans collaborative and uses informal communication channels. ELSA positively stimulates minds, makes people take ownership of the change, allows for greater collective intelligence, and enables people to reach different conclusions and solutions. Following are ten initial recommendations for using the ELSA change framework. You and those around you should expand this list:

  1. Always start by imagining that ideal event, and use your five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste).
  2. Use words that are meaningful (and inspire) from the point of view of those who must change, and include powerful stories that involve the five senses. Also use phrases or words that encourage learning.
  3. Prime your audience during the message. If positive events took place and people associate certain words with those events, include them.
  4. Deliver the same message in at least ten different ways, through stories and phrases, using different variations every day. Repeat the message as often as you can.
  5. Make discreet changes to the physical environment so that it supports the informal exchange of messages.
  6. Maintain consistency between what you say and what you do.
  7. Ensure high Enterprise Social Density so that the message can reach all corners of the company, or wherever you want it to.
  8. Spread the message among people who are trusted by those who are willing to change.
  9. Ensure that everyone involved feels safe about experimenting with the new concepts, and that the company supports them at all times (even if they fail).
  10. Once ELSA is used, get feedback, improve, and repeat.

The biggest difference between ELSA and other change frameworks is that you start here by making a change without making any alterations at all. ELSA focuses on modifying the way language is used and enabling the conditions for future change to happen. This is contrary to other frameworks, where you start alternating behaviors, processes or roles.

This makes the initial resistance lower, and that people more naturally want to change their ways of doing things.

If you enjoyed this article, why don’t you check the #1 book on enterprise agility and advanced change management techniques Leading Exponential Change 2nd edition?

Thanks for listening,

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