Let’s face it, no one loves change. Just consider the fallout from the referendum in 2016 which committed the UK to leaving the European Union.

Some accepted it with enthusiasm.

Some found it deeply worrying. In their view no one seemed to have a worked-out strategy for achieving the change. And on one seemed to have any real understanding of the necessary process.

In the meantime, TV interviews suggested many voters had little or no idea what the EU was or what leaving it would entail.

The truth will not be fully known for many, many years – but its impact has already been compared with that of the English Reformation under Henry VIII.

And some historians believe that cataclysmic shift was at the roots of the English Civil War…

The three levels of change

Whatever your personal feelings about the referendum, it does illustrate an important point. Because all change – no matter how small – takes place at three levels:

  • The task – answering the question ‘what are we doing?’
  • The process – answering the question ‘how are we doing it – by what method?’
  • And the emotional adjustment – the feelings people have about their present situation, and about the proposed change.

The last is frequently the most difficult and the most complex. That’s because it won’t just involve people’s reaction to the change itself. Often their emotional response is determined by past experience. And many will be carrying mental ‘baggage’ from other more (or less) successful processes.

All three levels are involved in any change scenario – and all three interact, in a very complex way, to build or destroy people’s commitment to the process.

And without commitment, there can be no effective change.

Of course, there are some situations where emotional commitment is irrelevant – where something has to be done simply because there is no alternative.

If a fire alarm goes off, for example, then it’s essential for everyone to leave the building, whether they want to or not.

But when the possibility of another option exists, there will always be those who prefer to follow it. So it’s vital to consider how, exactly, you can obtain the commitment you need.

Read more about conformance and commitment to change.