The Right Kind of Change

By: Samantha Whitehorne

Seth Kahan shares some insights from his latest book Getting Change Right, including why communication matters and how to build a culture that's ready for change.

According to Seth Kahan, if you want change to happen, you have to invite people to participate and share their creativity and demonstrate that they will generate impact. In this online-only interview with Associations Now, Kahan talks about why communication matters when it comes to change and the number-one thing he wants readers to know about getting change right. Read an excerpt from Getting Change Right in "How to Build Performance Communities."

Associations Now: Can you talk about the importance of communication in implementing change?

Seth Kahan: Communication is more than tossing information or views back and forth. Good communication is a collaborative interaction where there is a mutual interest in creating something new together—each party sees the other as a creator in their own right with the capacity to contribute and take action. When communication succeeds, it leads to new behavior, new interactions, new results. This is what implementing change is all about: creating impact.

In the book, you discuss how every organization has a different culture. Are there certain elements that make organizations more ready for change than others? If so, what are they?

Every organization is undergoing constant change—that is the nature of life. Adaptation to changing circumstances is a continuous process and is part and parcel of living systems. When you ask if a particular group is "ready for change," you need to dig a little deeper to understand the response you are likely to get. If people are asked to change in a way that reminds them of a previous time they were led through a transformation, they will bring all their previous associations to bear on their response. If the journey was a good one or yielded results they felt was worth the effort, they will be ready. If, on the other hand, the invitation to change reminds them of a time that was awful, or was a lot of energy for little change, or the impact was negative, then you will see resistance naturally mount.

But this is not an indicator of the success of the new program. It is just the starting place for the next stage of the journey. However people respond, the way they are treated and the stakes at play will determine their participation. Even with past mistakes it is possible to initiate a new, positive experience. That's why I wrote the book, to give people tools for doing it right, for creating engagement, and the great results it generates.

If you could share only one point about getting change right with readers, what would you share?

Change is less about figuring out some great way forward and getting people to do it; it is more about bringing people along in a way that invites their participation and relies on their creativity and hard work to generate new levels of impact. There is no shortage of good ideas about how to do things better, just as there is no shortage of technical expertise. But there remains a very small supply of social smarts, of people who use human nature to construct new and better ways of doing business.

When a new idea takes off, when a new program succeeds wildly, when a great initiative spreads like wildfire, it is because of the infectious enthusiasm that people lend it. This happens when everyone who plays a part gets something they want and care about as a result. Ultimately, really powerful, sustained change has its roots in the human spirit, in the well-being and joy of all who participate. This resource is in great supply and largely underutilized.