Techniques to engage people when you facilitate change

Dutch actor, coach, trainer and speaker Juanita Coble kicks off session #W110 on change and the importance of engaging people in the process. Welcome to ASTD2014 day 4…


According to Coble, Neuroscience tells us that when people are uncertain, they move into an “away state”. This accounts for many of the negative reactions to whatever change is going on.



Starting with a role-play, Coble took the stage as an actress, playing the role of interim director, Mrs Smith. “She” wouldn’t answer my questions, “she” was very direct, seemed to think she knew it all and was overly positive, but in a strange fake way. Telling us a story about making lemonade, “she” just talked, talked, talked…

Following Coble’s stage moment, session participants were invited to play a role and discuss their reactions to the change with “colleagues”. My character (who I will call “John”) saw it coming. He had already been looking around and had an interview planned for a new job. Other participants played other roles (although I still don’t know what instructions they received).


Thinking about one of our own changes, Coble asked us to make notes in answer to 3 different questions: “What has to go?”, “What should stay” and “What is needed?”

As the session moved on, participants were really encouraged to express their feelings about those things. For the “go” things, we wrote them on a piece of paper, crunched them up and threw them at the speaker (I was thinking of Mrs Smith 🙂 screaming “good riddance”. For the “should stays”, we simply discussed with our neighbours.

For the “what is needed?” question, we were invited to think of a “happy ending” to the change story. This could be more or less creative, either a literal ending to the story or a more figurative, romantic, novel ending. For my own “home-selling” change story, I thought about some kind of fairy-godmother coming to me in the night to reassure about how things we’re go. When our speaker asked me what my story-ending was, I told her. She asked me how I could get that. I answered. She asked me what I was going to do about it. The “coaching approach” got me thinking for myself and really helped me to identify the real problem going on.


How do you convince leadership that this kind of dialogue is necessary?

Coble says that the proof is already there from NeuroScience. Davis and Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute told us that people need “certainty” and “relatedness” (as well as other things) to be able to really integrate new change and new learning. If they don’t feel sure about things, or feel misunderstood, they will probably not get onboard. If they don’t do some “metacognition” (thinking about thinking) it won’t be anchored as it should be.

I have heard many people say that “coaching is a luxury we can’t afford”, yet the benefits of getting people to think for themselves have been widely documented and include better retention, satisfaction, creativity, responsibility…


What other things can we do to get people involved in the change process, or to facilitate sessions when change is happening?

A distinction must be made between involving people in initiating and defining the change, and helping them to face a change that is going to happen in a certain way. During the session, I was mostly focussing on the second type: How can you get people onboard for a predefined change, getting them engaged and responsible?

Coble gave a list of several options and we brainstormed more:

  • Use of social-media platforms to create discussion and sharing
  • On the job training
  • Classical discussions, one-or-one or in group meetings, really taking the time necessary
  • Rehearsal sessions with managers, helping them play-out the communication with people role-playing different reactions
  • Role-play
  • Multi-platform communications
  • Sound fragment dilemmas – essentially this involves recording the change-agents involved if defining the change as they explain what’s going on as they think about the change and drive the process forward. Those who are “following” the change are then invited to listen to those recordings as podcasts to get more insight on the feelings and motivation of others. I see no reason why this could not be done for recordings of anyone in the organisation, as this would help everyone to get a better sense of what is going on with others.
  • Fast-forward theatre – the idea of having actors come in to play scenes showing what things look like in the future, when the change is properly completed
  • Corporate “family constellations” which I do not feel I can do justice to in text on this blog. Please follow the link.


We then focused on one other specific technique that got my attention

A friend and colleague of mine, Oisin Varian, has occasionally talked to me about the value of visualisation techniques. In today’s session, I experienced the power of this first hand. Juanita Coble asked us to close our eyes and think about a future 10 years from now, when our own personal “change example” is properly completed.

With a few guiding words from the speaker, I imagine myself coming home one day from work (new home), opening the door and seeing my eldest daughter (now 18) on the sofa, talking to a friendly looking boy. My other 2 daughters were in the kitchen with their mother, doing homework, chatting and making food. I walked in relaxed and smiling and greeted everyone at the start of the evening. As I did this visualisation exercise, I started to yawn and relaxed the tension that had been in my shoulders all morning. Now, admittedly, I have been very tired at the end of 4 days of conferencing, but as I saw this new environment and my family, I had a tear of happiness in my eye.

Coble then asked “future Dan” to imagine he was looking back at himself today and think about what he would say to him about the change. My answer? “Relax. Don’t worry about all the details. Stop running around trying to make it all perfect. What you are going to get is nothing like you can possibly imagine today, and it’s going to be great.” I yawned some more.

I found this exercise very powerful and listening to other participants saying what they would say to themselves from the future, I could see that this technique wasn’t only working for me. Many people were feeling more (self) understood and self-assured. They also named quite clearly what it was they needed to focus on in the current moment of (difficult) change.


Put all these techniques together in a good way and you can create engagement

I believe that. We all know as managers and trainers that we have to take time to listen to people when facilitating change. Coble gave us the tools. First class session.


See also:



Who loves red monkeys? (survey)

In his work on organizational innovation, @JefStaes talks uses the analogy of red monkeys to describe a new idea. These 2 blog posts outline that idea and deliver results of my recent online survey of 71 people to see who loves red monkeys themselves, in their teams and in their organisations…

I suggest you read the supporting theory first – follow this link.

For a related blog post on how leaders can help bring change to the organisation, check this link.


In my survey, I asked people to choose between sets of phrases that describe either the Creator, Pioneer, Follower or Settler change personality. I asked them to choose what best suits themselves, their team/department/close colleagues and their company from the following:

  • I love change! I tend to create change and new ideas myself. When faced with new ideas, I brainstorm to create even more. I throw new ideas and change into the organisation with enthusiasm.
  • I am open to change and take it seriously. When people come to me with new ideas or initiatives, I will help them to test the idea to see how it can work. If it does work, we can introduce it into the organisation.
  • I don’t really like change and new ways of working. I don’t come up with ideas myself. But if its best for me, I’ll do it. Just show me good examples and proof and I’ll do what needs to be done.
  • I am against change. I don’t like changing things, or new ideas. Things would be best if they just continued the same way. Don’t come to me with new ideas!


When dealing with this model in training (in the wider context of introducing change management), we first learn about the red monkey model, then I ask: Which do you think you are most like, your team and your company? Almost every time in training, I get a distribution like this:

…and I would have bet money on the survey giving the same results (fortunately, no-one offered to bet!)

My explanation of these results is something as follows:

  • People like to think of themselves as more creative than they actually probably are
  • No-one wants to think of themselves as anti-change, as a settler
  • People imagine their company to be slow with change, overly bureaucratic and not open to new suggestions. Note that I tend to work for a lot of large corporations and I suspect this could be different if I worked with smaller less structured organisations.
  • There is a mentality of “us against them” in many companies – this leads to the idea that “they” stifle “us”


In my online survey of the 4th November 2011, the 71 results I got give the following impression when stuck on to the red monkey model:

What do I think of these results?

  • I didn’t see the major “my company is a settler” view I expected (good news in my opinion)
  • Maybe asking the question without training/learning doesn’t give people the same feeling of the model as in a training room
  • Individuals still rate themselves quite creative and open to change
  • ..and more so than other people in their organisation


According to @JefStaes the Creators and the Pioneers make up only about 10% of the population. If we imagine my survey respondents (“ME”) to be “the population” of an organisation then we have no followers! This could make for an extremely (read “overly”) dynamic organisational culture!

What are my thoughts on this?

  1. Maybe by chance the people who took the survey are actually part of the 10% in their own organisation
  2. Since I asked via Twitter, maybe I didn’t get so many “Followers” and “Settlers” answering – they are not on the Twitter train yet..
  3. Or, as I already noted: People tend to “mark themselves up” as more creative or pioneering


I’m glad people rate themselves as creative and open to change. I only add (rather cynically, I admit) the following paradox:

  • If you ask me if I’m honest, I’ll say “yes”
  • If you ask me if other people are honest, I’ll say “not always”
  • Everyone replies the same to these 2 questions
  • …but I don’t believe everyone is honest
  • ..but I still say I am! 🙂


Please leave me a comment if you read, took part or enjoyed this survey. Ienjoyed it a lot, but I don’t pretend to know everything here – I’m interested to keep on learning and would love your feedback. I’ve added to the comments myself with 2 email replies already received over the weekend…

For a related blog post on how leaders can help bring change to the organisation, check this link



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