The Enemy of Empathy.

Am I going mad? …surely I can’t be the only one who sees this?

Despite the billions of dollars across the globe thrown at change management frameworks and training → I’m yet to see any organisation with a consistent, effective approach to it. I’m not saying they don’t exist… but I am saying they’re rarer than hens teeth.

In many ways Change Management is a little like a highly restrictive diet. You know the theory is sound, and you see posters of people losing a tonne of weight – but for the vast majority of us it’s just not sustainable.

This fallibility of change management is something I’ve been pondering for a while (..likely a consequence of writing a book called Valuable Change, a book that funnily enough doesn’t touch on ‘stereotypical change management’ all that much). But it wasn’t until earlier this week that it finally clicked. I was midway through kicking off a change leadership program with a client when this little chestnut fell out of my mouth:

“Corporate speak is the enemy of empathy”

…I’ll admit, I thought it was pretty clever at the time, but then I realised that the phrase was merely an invitation into a deeper problem: What we call ‘professionalism’ is likely a huge factor in preventing the success of Change Management. After all, what is professionalism – if not speaking and acting in a way that masks emotion!?

And you know what drives people to adopt change?


Bloody hell… we’ve been trying to fish with a hammer, while wearing a suit!

This is why Change Management frameworks rarely work!

They are corporate attempts to deal with fear, emotion and empathy. And, even if you do manage to capture true empathy and emotion in your change management strategy → it just gets neutered or removed through the upline document approval processes! “oh, you can’t say that like that.”

It’s an interesting problem, and one I may explore deeper in my next book, but in the meantime

Here’s a few simple suggestions to recapture emotion and empathy:

Full warning – some boldness is required here as you’ll be going against the accepted norms and disavowing yourself of a few ideas.

First – Stop calling it ‘change management’.

Get the word ‘management’ out of the name. Change adoption is a little nicer. As is uptake or embedding. (These are admittedly still a little corporate – but hey – got to start somewhere!)

Second – Embrace casual, colloquial language.

If I ask you “what are the positive outcomes of the change for the finance team?” – you’ll answer in corporate speak. Usually something along the lines of:

“greater efficiency, better user experience, improved governance”

….Yawn… bored yet?

But what if we ask the question differently – a little more casually, a little more colloquially:

“why the hell would anyone in the finance team want to do this?”

That question is so far removed from corporate speak that it causes a break in your internal corporate neuro-circuitry, and so you just have to answer differently:

“well, it makes something they already have to do, a little bit faster”

And that’s a much easier story to sell.

After all, we all managed to embrace our casual humanity through the covid-driven remote work revolution… why can’t we embrace our casual humanity in our change efforts as well?

Third – Ask ‘So What?’

This is one of my favourite strategies to get from vague corporate nonsense to useful, tangible reality.

“we’ll be more efficient”

So what?

“well, we’ll do it faster”

So what?

“umm.. the team will be able to leave on time everyday” (→ The personal benefit.)

So what?

“and overtime costs will drop”. (→ The benefit to the organisation.)