The power of moments in organizational change

People tend to remember the best, worst and last moments of an experience and forget the rest. Therefore, figure out what those crucial moments are in the change process and work on them.


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The power of moments in organizational change

Customer and employee experiences with products, services or organizations do not form one cohesive story, but are made up of a series of moments. For example, a plane trip consists of booking a ticket, traveling to the airport, checking in, boarding, flying, having lunch, landing, picking up luggage and taking a cab to your destination. These are moments, but that does not make them a good experience.

How you experience that whole journey depends on the highs and lows (peaks) you experience throughout the journey. But the timing of that experience is also a determining factor. Research shows that we remember the end of something more vividly than the other moments. So two types of moments are important: the peaks and the end. This is also called the peakend rule.

What can we do with these insights within organizational change?

That’s what I’m going to look for in this article. How can we consciously create moments to generate maximum impact and change?

I approach a major change as a ‘journey’ that those involved in the organization experience, actively and passively. This is the ‘change journey’. To make that experience smooth, we often focus on removing obstacles and less on building peak moments. These sometimes arise by chance, but usually not, so it is better to create them yourself.

“In life we can work so hard to get the kinks out that we forget to put the peaks in.”

Dan & Chip Heath


Don’t leave moments to chance

There is a whole science behind moments. We can use those insights to be more active in dealing with those moments. We don’t have to wait for them to happen, but can build them ourselves.

In customer experience design, we call these moments the moments of truth. These are the different moments in the life cycle when customers form an impression about your company or brand. In employee experience design, they are called ‘moments that matter‘. This includes both positive and negative moments. In change design, I would also call them “moments of truth”, because it is important to look for the most impactful moments, the moments of truth, which determine the success of the change.

“Change is about the moments that make it”

One bad moment can wipe out the entire experience and one great moment can unleash enthusiasm for the change. That’s why it’s important to look at this carefully. And to create the desired experience for key moments with the knowledge that exists about the power of moments.

Dan & Chip Heath wrote the book ‘The Power of Moments about this. They based this on research into organizational behavior. According to them, we need to think more in terms of moments. What makes an experience meaningful and memorable? What are the elements of such an experience?

How do we become architects of meaningful moments?

1. Think in situations

This starts with recognizing where in the journey asterisks (*) can be placed because they are important moments. According to the Heath brothers’ research, there are three situations that deserve it:

  • transitions: promotion, first day at work, first day at the assisted living facility,…
  • milestones: birthdays, marriage, retirement, graduation,…
  • pits: layoffs, losing a loved one, relationship breakdowns,…

The maxim according to Heath is that “transitions should be marked, milestones remembered and pits filled. So start looking for the transitions, milestones and pits in your (change) journey.

2. Think in ‘EPIC’ moments

A defining moment is a brief experience that is both memorable and meaningful. Once you have identified those moments in your change journey, you can look at how you can make those moments more meaningful and memorable. You turn certain moments into a real experience. How do you increase the likelihood that it will be a defining moment? Where can you create peak moments to have maximum impact?

According to the authors, such moments consist of four elements. The more you can integrate these into a particular moment, the greater the chance that the moment will become decisive in the journey.

The four elements of each peak experience are EPIC, an English acronym for Elevation, Pride, Insight and Connection.

1/ Elevation – elevating moments above the ordinary

By enhancing the sensory appeal: this is done by making moments even more beautiful than they are in reality. This is why weddings are embellished with flowers, good food, music, etc. A great example of this is how residential care center Kouterhof in Heusden (Belgium) turned the vaccination milestone into a party.

vaccination milestone elderly care

The residential care center was decorated with colorful lights and special effects. Each time a resident was vaccinated, the party erupted and the resident could experience his or her ‘moment de gloire’.

In organizational change, you can make the start of a change (a new project, a new way of working, a new team, …) more attractive by creating a show around it. Just look at how Apple or Microsoft do this when announcing new products. Marketing will hopefully also increasingly find its way into organizational change to help shape moments like these. In this way you can also highlight intermediate milestones.

Source: fierce

By raising the stakes: this is another way to make a moment transcend the mundane. You can do this by adding contest and game elements or a deadline. For example, in 2004, Donald Berwick, a physician and director of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, created a memorable moment when, before a room full of hospital  executives, he set not just a goal (to reduce the number of deaths from medical errors), but a very clear deadline that made the stakes immediately clear: “Here’s what I think we should do. I think we should save a hundred thousand lives. And I think we should do that by June 14, 2006, so within eighteen months. A number is not a number, soon is not a deadline. Here’s the number: one hundred thousand. Here’s the deadline: June 14, 2006, 9:00 a.m.” The audience was speechless. Eighteen months later, on 14/6/06 at 9am, Berwick stepped back on stage to announce the results. In that time, the hospitals had collectively prevented an estimated 122,300 preventable deaths and introduced new standards of care. The audience was euphoric. This nicely demonstrates how a thoughtful and meaningful moment can move an entire industry to bring change.

By breaking the script: this you do by adding an element of surprise. A great example of this is the humorous version of safety instructions on an airplane. I experienced it once and will not soon forget the flight (and the steward).

Upon leaving, he said, “put on your oxygen mask first yourself and only then your child’s. If you have more than one child, take care of the most promising one first…”

Just before arrival: “make sure you don’t leave any valuables behind. If you do leave valuables behind, you can find them tonight on eBay”.

This works as long as the broken script does not become the normal script and every steward applies it. Therefore, customer and employee experience design is not a one-time exercise, but a continuous story in which you involve all your employees and give them space. For example, the employees at Pret A Manger get to give away a certain number of hot drinks and food items to customers each week, creating a nice moment for a number of customers each time, without it being completely scripted. Randomness is a key requirement. So if you want your employees to provide a better customer experience, give them some freedom. Employees need to be able to break the script, and be creative and spontaneous.

In organizational change, you can take people out of their traditional environment to get them moving. It always works well to be away from the normal workplace because it marks the moment as different. So move your meeting room for a day, go to an unexpected environment. This is often done at the management level, but rarely in the layers below, just where change often needs to happen. However, it doesn’t always have to cost money. If job mobility or learning new skills is the change, why not switch places with another team. Or put two teams together that never work together and think about the change together. Come out of your cocoon and break the script.

2/ Pride – moments when we can be at our best

These are moments of courage or pride. There are some practical principles for creating memorable and meaningful moments through this strategy:

By acknowledging others: don’t leave moments to chance, one person can make a positive difference in someone’s life without taking an enormous amount of time, as long as it is spontaneous and focused on specific behaviors. It is important that a manager follows up with his people individually during major organizational changes and regularly indicates that there is progress and that it is appreciated. Not from a script, but from the heart.

By multiplying successful milestones: divide a long journey or change so that there are multiple “end points” or peak moments. Find ways to evaluate activities, learning or projects. Working agile in change projects is a great example, by working in cycles or sprints, with interim milestones within the larger change. Over time, it is difficult to see the impact of incremental change. Therefore, celebrate especially the small victories.

3/ Insight – moments that change our understanding about the world

Defining moments give us a certain insight and change our understanding about ourselves or the world around us. Moments like these can affect your life in a matter of seconds. For example, at one point in 2011 I myself was standing listening to a strategy update in the company where I was working at the time. I can still see me standing there and who was standing next to me. At one point, I turned to my colleague and told her, “I’m having yet another déjà-vu, maybe it’s time to leave”. That moment gave me the push to become self-employed. Such an insight is sometimes called an ‘aha’ moment or an ‘epiphany’, a wonderful word to describe the moment when a great insight comes to you.

Ways to work with insight in moments are:

Tripping over the truth: We often try to demonstrate the truth about something through numbers and powerpoints in which we do the arguing for change. The downside is that it is often abstract and one of many presentations that decision makers get to see. How can you make sharing your findings a more memorable moment? Above all, how can you initiate change? By letting the decision makers come to their own understanding. And not through numbers.

Source: Reviewed / Kyle Hamilton

For example, an intern once laid out an executive table filled with more than 400 different types of gloves they had in stock, often with very minor differences. Each of the managers who entered the conference room stared at the pile of gloves for a minute. They were at a loss for words and understood that an enormous amount of money was being wasted because of this. The intern was quickly given the mandate to change this. The strength of this example lies in the fact that the audience themselves came to understand that there was a problem. You can only appreciate the solution if you appreciate the problem.

Stretching people towards insight: self-insight rarely comes by staying in our heads, but by taking action or by letting someone stretch you. Like a coach, but also a good manager or a good friend does this. For example, I myself have been fortunate to have known a few managers who stretched my thinking. Who didn’t have the answers, but asked the questions. Who held up a mirror to me and thus provided insights and made me grow. And once in a while, such an insight is a moment you never forget. Generating these insights is something that is often lacking in organizational change. When it is necessary for people to learn new skills, the motivation to do so will not come from hearing why it is important, but rather from the personal insight that it is necessary. A manager or change coach who asks those questions and stretches his or her people will bring about change more quickly. Recognizing the important moments in the change that will have the most impact is crucial here.

4/ Connection – moments we experience with others

Key moments are social, such as marriage, graduation, a baptism, an important sports final, … Such moments are enhanced because they are shared with others. So make sure you make moments social to enhance the experience.

You can fuel these kinds of moments by:

Creating shared meaning: people who struggle together through a change cultivate very strong social bonds. Create those moments in your organizational change, make sure that people work in teams and don’t struggle alone. Give a team a meaningful task in the change that they can complete autonomously. Also, show that what each individual does really matters in the big picture. Help them discover their why and their path. To do this, you need to set up the necessary processes and support leaders and teams; it doesn’t happen by itself.

Deepen the bonds: relationships form and flourish when we interact with each other, not when we go through processes and checklists to evaluate how others are doing. Roadmaps, checklists, and file cards are very useful tools for tracking your change, but not for creating human connection. Those moments when that connection is created are the moments when change can happen and people are more likely to embrace the change. So try working less with a set plan and approach when you talk to your team about the change going on and listen to your people with care and understanding.

A short recap

You will be more successful as a change manager if you can create experiences that make people more enthusiastic about embracing the change during these defining moments.

To that end

👉🏼 start looking for the transitions, milestones and pits in your (change) journey,

👉🏼 choose the most important ones, with the most impact on your change,

👉🏼 create experiences in those moments by incorporating as many EPIC principles as possible:

  • you make those moments transcend the mundane by enhancing the sensory appeal and/or increasing the stakes and/or breaking the script,
  • you organize or enhance those moments when people can be at their best by recognizing others and/or by multiplying successful milestones,
  • you work with moments of heightened insight by letting people stumble over the truth and/or stretching them toward insight and thus initiating change
  • you ensure that people experience those moments with others by creating shared meaning and/or strengthening connections.


And remember: people tend to remember the best, worst and last moments of an experience and forget the rest. Therefore, figure out what those crucial moments are in the change process and work on them. Creating special moments is also important in organizational change, but be careful not to make everything special, because then nothing is special anymore. So think carefully as a change architect which are the most impactful areas in the change you envision and apply the principles to them.


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