Emography is the art of drawing an emotion. It’s a right brain activity that helps teams communicate on a deeper level. When team members first create images of thoughts and feelings, it’s easier for them to talk about difficult topics, resolve conflicts, and identify solutions. This technique is especially effective during organizational change when emotions are running high.
Following a series of acquisitions, Natalie was charged with consolidating three departments into one centralized operation. Her challenge was to retain each of the three leadership teams, maintain a high level of morale during the transition, and identify as many ways to decrease operating expenses as possible. A piece of cake, right? To ensure success, Natalie applied the Three Levels of Communication™.
Level 1 Communication – Intellectual: People understand the need to change
Natalie met individually with her new leaders and told them how valuable they were to the company. She asked for their help and expertise to build a combined, stronger department that would exemplify the best practices from each of the old departments.
She provided facts and figures to convince these leaders they would have a bright, challenging future–even brighter than if they’d continued to lead their own smaller departments.
The leaders told her how hard they had worked to build best practices over the years. They explained how proud they were of all they’d accomplished and that they were afraid the changes would limit their personal power. When they shared Natalie’s messages, they found their own fear and uncertainty mirrored back to them through the eyes and words of their direct reports.
Natalie understood that all the facts and figures in the world were not going to change how they felt. However, she was just getting started.
Level 2 Communication – Emotional: People buy in and want to support the need for change
The next thing she did was to schedule an offsite. Natalie knew she needed to create a joint experience that would help these leaders feel the power they could achieve through a new, centralized department. She knew that before people could feel the power, they needed to share what they’d already accomplished. She also knew that before they could create a new vision, they had to let go of the old.
So, as part of the offsite, she structured a three-part emography exercise.
- Part 1: The first morning, leaders broke into small groups, which represented their original departments. On a flip chart, they drew all the images they could think of to illustrate the accomplishments and culture of their former departments. Then they shared their images and thoughts with the large group. Their new colleagues smiled and said things like, “we need to do that in our new department,” and “what a great idea.” Instead of thinking only about what they wanted to say next, people were listening to each other and considering new ideas.
- Part 2: At the end of the day, everyone broke into new groups that mixed leaders from the three departments. The groups drew images that described how they and their direct reports currently felt about the changes they faced as one consolidated department. As each group reported back, they discovered everyone was feeling the same fear, uncertainty, and chaos. That night, over dinner, people talked about how they could work together to keep the best practices from each former team and how to help their direct reports transition. They started to talk about how maybe this consolidation could be a good thing if they learned how to work as a team.
- Part 3: Throughout the second day, the leaders identified and prioritized objectives for the coming quarter. At the end of the day, Natalie asked them to mix once more into new groups and create images of how they envisioned the new, centralized department. When each group reported back to the larger group, the energy in the room grew and the offsite culminated in commitments from each to build the strongest department they could.
Level 3 Communication – Practical: People know how to make a personal contribution
The offsite was even more successful than Natalie had hoped. Even so, she knew that when everyone went back to face their daily work, the excitement and commitment could dissipate if the processes and tools did not exist to reinforce the right behavior and actions.
So, she and her leaders created a plan to communicate what needed to happen, why, when it needed to happen, and who was involved. They also provided a variety of ongoing experiences for everyone, kept priorities and progress visible, and celebrated progress against plan.
In the end, this team saved $8M in operating expenses. Morale was high, and people were proud to be part of the new team.
Emography is a useful tool. We often think in words rather than images, and language can be limiting. When we draw representations of what we’re feeling, we can express through metaphor and image what we may not be able to express with words alone. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about how to use Emography with your own team.