Our most powerful but least leveraged leadership tool is . . .

Mike Morrison, Ph.D.

Mike Morrison, Ph.D.

Creating Meaningful Change

July 31, 2022

Our most powerful but least leveraged leadership tool is . . . how we frame things.

Let’s start with some background.

A researcher did an experiment on the power of framing our work efforts around learning.  In the study, three different teams were given different “framings” for solving a real problem within their organization.

Framing One:  Just fix it.  The manager of the first team simply communicated a problem to the team; provided a ready-made solution; and asked them to fix it.

Framing Two:  You figure out how to fix it.  The manager of the second team communicated a problem to the team and asked them find a solution and fix it.

Framing Three:  Learn as much as you can.  The manager of the third team communicated a problem; asked the team to solve it . . . but added this additional challenge . . . “In solving the problem, learn as much as you can along the way.”  That’s it.  No other special instructions.

Which framing produced the best results in terms of solving the problem in the most effective and sustainable way?  As you would guess from my set up, it is the third framing.  But here’s why.  With this added “learning orientation” it captured the team’s attention in a unique way.  For some, it probably captured their curiosity:  “I wonder why she asked us to learn as much as we can?” For others, it became part of the objective that they started to lean into.  Most importantly, this framing added a focusing element that got them out of their typical problem-solving comfort zone.  They simply were challenged to think about it more.

As the Dean of the University of Toyota, I was anxious to imbed this insight into our training and development efforts . . . for obvious reasons.  At this same time I was also writing a leadership book on “creating meaningful change.”  The learning experiment got me thinking:   Instead of just effectively managing change . . . why not make the change as meaningful as possible.  (In other words, I wanted to test the efficacy of a special framing around meaning . . . similar to not just solving the problem but learning as much as you can along the way.)

Here was the experiment.  Managers were participating in a change management workshop that included “homework” of actually leading a simple change initiative with their back home team.  The participating managers were split into two groups.

Group One:  The first group was provided the foundations for effectively managing change and then asked to apply their new insights in a change project with their team.

Group Two:  The second group was provided the same foundational training in managing change and were also asked to apply it to a project with their team.  But in addition . . .  at the end of the workshop . . . Group Two were also given the special challenge of making the proposed change as meaningful as possible.  There were no other special instructions or guidance.  Just make it as meaningful as possible.

As with the learning case, the simple framing had a dramatic impact on the business outcomes of their change efforts.  Instead of narrowly focusing on the outcomes we can enhance performance with a unique, attention-getting framing.  We get that, right?  Under the relentless time pressures of most work environments, we need to break the “just do it” focus that can be our controlling mindset.

Try this.  In leading your change efforts, look beyond the outcomes you want to achieve and determine a special framing that will help to not only shift thinking but deepen it in ways that are needed most.

Learn as much as you can along the way.

Make it as meaningful as possible.

Have a special eye toward including new voices.

Focus on daily and sustainable progress.

Make it fun too!