Real Issues: The Hardware and Heartware of Change

by Bryan Chuang

OD Catalyst

How do we measure change? The magnitude of change in an organisation could range from large-scale, like a merger or acquisition, or a smaller-scale one such as an adjustment in task timelines. But another way to look make sense of change could be to look at its “hardware” versus its “heartware".

Very often, organisational leaders focus on and manage the hardware of change; i.e changes in the business strategy, changes in delivery timelines, changes in operating systems and processes or changes in HR policies. These leaders might be able to identify and structure how the change would take place, by adopting frameworks such as John Kotter’s or William Bridges’ change models. With some external help perhaps, the change would be implemented “successfully” and communicated to all employees through a town-hall session.

It is undeniable that all of the above are essential in managing and leading successful change. However, one of the things that leaders often fail to manage is the emotions of their constituents who are affected by the changes. This heartware component of leadership is delicate and not often talked about.

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Leaders can consider the following as they manage their constituents’ emotions:

  1. Be proactive in seeking out feelings and views. Employees need to know that they are being heard, even if their views conflict with that of the leader’s. Leaders can draw them out by assuring them that emotional reactions are normal and it is safe to express them. Leaders can also initiate the session by being open and sharing their own emotional reactions.

  2. Be seen. Being visible helps to alleviate uncertainties and unfamiliarities experienced in the midst of change. Leaders need to be available for their constituents by being accessible, even on a daily basis. This helps to rebuild the trust that might be lost during the initial stages of change.

  3. Be informative. I recently facilitated a workshop for an American multi-national corporation that is undergoing changes in their systems, processes and management team, and their employees were experiencing a high level of shock and anger because they were not informed of the change until the last minute. Employees want and need to know what is the change, when it will begin, how long it will last, and why there is a need to change. By providing constant updates on how the change is progressing, fear and anxiety will be reduced. It will be worthwhile to have more regular meetings or frequent email updates.

  4. Be a celebrator. As the change progresses, it is important to celebrate small wins by recognising and rewarding the advancements that employees have made. Beyond monetary rewards, giving positive feedback is also an effective way of encouraging them and dispelling depression and fear.

  5. Be clear about the constants. In the midst of change, leaders need to know and communicate to their constituents that there is a core that holds everything together. This “core” is what ensures the organisation will not be overwhelmed by change - leadership beliefs, culture and core values. In fact, it is because we want to protect the “core” that we need to change; otherwise, external forces in the business environment may eventually force you to compromise your beliefs, culture and values.


At the end of the day, the heart of the matter is that matters of the heart do matter. Beyond focusing on the cognitive aspect of knowing what needs to change and how to change, leaders can be more successful in managing change if they address the heartware of change intentionally and strategically.


Is your organisation going through a change that needs some thought into “heartware” management? Ask us any questions you might have, and we would be happy to answer your concerns about change. Email us at