Lessons in change communication: Ratatouille

My youngest is home with a fever today, and so I am home, too.

In a delightful “you got your peanut butter on my chocolate” moment, I was just now sitting at the dining room table reading the latest from Seth Godin while my daughter is in the other room watching “Ratatouille.”

What a great mash-up in the emotions of change management.

You remember the food critic Anton Ego from Pixar’s brilliant film set in a once-fancy French restaurant. As cynical a professional as there ever was, Ego writes about food with expertise and distance, but it has been a very long time since he experienced child-like wonder at a meal prepared with love.

In a blog post yesterday, Godin contrasted wonder with anger:

It’s hard to imagine two emotions more different from one another.

And yet one can easily replace the other. A sense of wonder and grinding anger can’t co-exist.

Great innovations, powerful interactions and real art are often produced by someone in a state of wonder. Looking around with stars in your eyes and amazement at the tools that are available to you can inspire generosity and creativity and connection.

Anger, on the other hand, merely makes us smaller.

I’d use “cynicism” as the opposite of wonder, but I take Godin’s point.  And he’s right:  the two can’t co-exist.

All of this brings to mind some recent work we’ve been doing on change management. It’s well understood that employee response to change happens along a continuum. Some grab hold quickly, others take more time to process. Most all go through predictable stages from denial to embrace.

What’s less talked about is that some employees are content to play the role of the critic–to sit, like Anton Ego, on the sidelines, telling anyone who will listen what leadership got wrong, how things could be better, why this will never work.

They’ve lost their wonder, and will likely never produce, as Godin says, “great innovations, powerful interactions and real art.”

What’s the role of leadership communication in addressing the critic?  

I think it’s two fold:

1.  The leader must be clear that sideline criticism is not acceptable.

Unconstructive criticism — no matter how insightful or well-informed — is poison.  It should not be tolerated.

2.  Communication should invite everyone to recapture that sense of wonder.

This is more difficult, and probably more important. In their communication to teams during times of change, leaders have to paint a picture filled with possibility.  They have to connect with likely critics one-on-one to find out what might get them energized around the change.  They have to invite these cynics to set aside their expertise and professional distance, and to imagine the possibilities inherent in change.

In the end, even Anton Ego reclaims his sense of child-like wonder.  It’s in all of us.  The best leaders know how to pull it out.