The Surprise of Being Surprised

In his seminal work, Managing at the Speed of Change, Daryl Conner makes the point that one of the most challenging aspects of dealing with reactions to organizational change is when employees find themselves “surprised to be surprised”.

“It’s not the surprises in life that are so debilitating. The truly crushing force is being surprised that you are surprised.” – Daryl Conner

This is a very useful insight when designing communications approaches in a time of change. It can be helpful to normalize feelings of surprise, so that they, well, don’t come by surprise!

Here are some examples of messages leaders can use to help minimize the impact of unexpected feelings of surprise about change:

  • “We’re all excited to be updating our dinosaur computer systems with this new state-of-the art technology. The new platform will help us serve clients better and more quickly. Keep in mind, though, that although this new system is amazing and designed to be user-friendly, there will still be a learning curve. We’ll have to give ourselves time to adapt.”
  • “Our new office space will be terrific – a bright, sunny area for us to do our best work in, with the latest in modular working spaces to facilitate collaboration. Like any move, though, there are bound to be things we didn’t plan for, or aspects of the new space that take some getting used to … let’s check in after a week in the new space to see how we’re doing, and what adjustments we may need to make.”
  • “Growing our project team is going to help us reach whole new levels of performance. We have some of the best talent in the industry joining our team. While this will add a whole new energy and skill set to our work, it also will mean a lot of new ways of looking at things, and new ways of working. You should expect that it may take a few weeks or months for our new team to really hit its stride. Let’s be patient and give ourselves the time to come together in our new structure.”

Cultivating an awareness of this “surprised to be surprised” phenomenon is a great way to dial up the focus and impact of your change communications messages.