Certain metaphors can tell employees that they are considered essential to the change, and others confirm their suspicion that they are insignificant minions simply carrying out the boss' grand vision. "You can really alienate people and make them resistant to your idea by using metaphors in which there is one person calling the shots a lot of military metaphors, sports metaphors, and jungle metaphors do this," he says. "Instead, you should emphasize metaphors that much more directly refer to team-oriented situations where there has to be power sharing and collaboration."
What sorts of metaphors work? Riley uses a handful of airline metaphors when describing change: "We talk about flight controllers and putting together a flight plan so everyone knows where you're trying to go and how you're going to get there."
For his part, Axley often uses images of community and, increasingly, metaphors comparing improvisational jazz to business. "Obviously, teamwork and cooperation are implied, but so are innovation and exploration within a consensual structure," he explains. "And so is an 'experimenting' mentality in which mistakes are opportunities
CHANGE YOU TUNE
Too often, upper-level managers forget to change gears from formulating change in the conference room to the more nuanced, human language of implementation. The impersonal words and jargon used as executives discuss cost cutting and reorganization often filter down to the way a change is presented to employees. "People get used to referring to employees as units, or talking about retooling employees. You start getting the sense that the language comes from someone who never goes away from his or her computer," says Walters.