“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”    — Peter Drucker

An important part of successful change facilitation is the ability to influence others (especially sponsors). Sometimes we only need to explain to them what needs to be done. Much of the time, however, their behaviors and/or mindsets must be carefully reshaped for an initiative to be fully realized.

There is a close interdependency between a person’s mindset and his or her behavior. Each reflects an important component to the change process, yet many practitioners are better prepared to address the behavioral dynamics than the mindset implications. Although successful change facilitators attend to both when attempting to redirect a person’s natural reaction to a situation, this series will focus only on how to encourage new mindsets that support an initiative’s desired outcome.

What Is a Mindset?

Mindsets contain both intellectual and emotional elements that affect our perceptions, interpretations, and actions. They guide what we think and how we feel about people and things. Mindsets are formed by a combination of organizing models, values, beliefs, preferences, and attitudes. Because actions are typically based on a person’s thoughts, feelings, and priorities, most behaviors have a mindset behind them that is used to justify the behavior from the person’s perspective at the moment.

That is a lot to absorb, so to keep things simple, we will focus on only two elements of a person’s mindset:

  • Frame of reference—the way an individual makes sense of situations
  • Priorities—the relative importance and value of various options

Frame of Reference

Each individual has a unique way of interpreting the world (e.g., some people are optimists; others are pessimists). Professional background, past experiences, education, etc. all influence a person’s viewpoint. The combination of all the various parts of an individual’s interpretation of the world makes up that person’s frame of reference (FOR).


A person’s FOR guides his or her attention, goals, and actions in any given circumstance: Should I eat lunch or exercise? Return this phone call or send an email? Take the time to raise this issue or let it slide? The choices people make are reflections of the things they see as most important—their priorities. What is important to them may be temporary in nature (goals) or reflect a longer-term perspective (values).

A person’s unique mindset is indicative of that individual’s personality traits. When groups of people share frames of reference and priorities, it reveals aspects of their culture. In either case, mindsets ultimately lead to behaviors that support them. Because of this, practitioners must be able to reshape mindsets as part of navigating important organizational transformations.

The Basics of Shifting Mindsets

Within organizations pursuing major change, the first step in attempting to shift someone’s mindset is to be clear about the intent of the initiative and then to identify the FOR and priorities required to support that outcome. Here’s an example:

A company wants to move from having transactional relationships with its customers to building extremely strong customer relationships. To do this, it is necessary for employees to share a “customer-centered” mindset. Employees must begin viewing the people they serve differently and making different choices in their interactions with them, or nothing of substance will change.

This means that two things are important:

  • It’s essential to understand both the desired future FOR as well as the current FOR, to gain a clear picture of the magnitude and nature of the gap that must be closed.
  • It is also critical to articulate what should become more important or less important than it was in the past (priorities).


Reframing is the reshaping of a person’s FOR and related priorities to shift how that person sees and interprets certain things.

We can’t force people to change their mindsets in support of successful implementation of an initiative. There are steps that we can follow, however, to significantly increase the likelihood that a different perspective will unfold.

reframing_frogReframing involves focusing a person’s attention on the same information previously available, but helping him or her view it differently so the implications can be recalibrated. Through “reframing,” new options are made possible that would otherwise not be feasible or acceptable to the person. (The picture of the frog at right, if viewed from a different perspective, contains a second image.[1])

Key Reframing Skills

Reframing requires that the change practitioner be willing and able to do five things:

  1. Address the “context” as well as the “content” of interpersonal communications.
  2. Redefine the other person’s FOR in a way that sheds positive light on the successful implementation of the change at hand.
  3. Reset the person’s priorities.
  4. Respond effectively when the person reacts to
    the reframing attempt.
  5. Confront the person with the real price it takes to achieve success.

I’ll discuss each of these skills in detail in upcoming posts.

Next: Develop the ability to communicate “contextually.”

[1] Turn the picture counter-clockwise 90 degrees to see the image of a horse head.