What Can CLOs and Change Management Practitioners Learn from Halloween?

Let’s begin with a nightmare…

Boys and girls of every age
Wouldn’t you like to see something strange?
Come with us and you will see
This, our town of Halloween
This is Halloween, this is Halloween
Pumpkins scream in the dead of night
This is Halloween, everybody make a scene
Trick or treat till the neighbors gonna die of fright
It’s our town, everybody scream
In this town of Halloween!

Thus begins the first song in Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s delightful Nightmare Before Christmas. I remember watching Nightmare for the first time in 1993 and feeling goosebumps at the magnificence of it. Every element of Halloween is reflected in this alternative world, where the citizens of Halloweentown hijack Christmas.

Much of the fun follows from the familiarity of all the Halloween features, and the delight we take as the world of Halloween collides with the world of Christmas. When the Halloween townspeople remake Christmas, everything Christmas is remade in the shape of Halloween. Jack’s sleigh is pulled by skeleton reindeer, and a cute toy duck becomes a bullet-riddled, “undead” version of itself, as the vampires sing: “snakes and mice get wrapped up so nice, with spider legs and pretty bows.” (If you’ve never seen the movie this must sound horrific or insane. But if you’re familiar with the movie you’ll know how much fun it is to watch.)

So as learning and change practitioners, what can we learn from this? For me, it’s all about the power of fully elaborated and familiar mental models. Consider how almost everyone’s behavior is changed by Halloween (and, for that matter, other commercialized holidays). Stores redecorate, neighborhoods are transformed, and the young and the young-at-heart put on their favorite costumes to assume a different role.

Wouldn’t it be terrific if we could achieve the same level of behavior change in our change management projects – and make it last? Well, let’s unpack it and see if Halloween can teach us something about change management.

As Halloween approaches, we begin planning decorations, roles and costumes, activities, and what we’ll be eating and drinking. Consider how you can apply the same kind of framework to a change management project. Here are four basic questions to consider.

1. How can you redecorate?

As our homes and offices get a Halloween makeover, Halloween becomes impossible to avoid. We’re surrounded by bats, spiderwebs, pumpkins, and all the other paraphernalia of Halloween. Now think about a current change management or learning project you’re working on. To what extent have you redecorated or done a complete office makeover, so that the new ideas are visible everywhere, all the time?

2. What roles can you give people to play?

Certain Halloween roles are predictable: witch, vampire, skeleton, werewolf, zombie, etc. When you’re introducing a new set of ideas you can invite different staff members to play different roles: evangelist, champion, supporter, reminder, etc. With different people playing different roles and emphasizing different ideas, you can achieve a groundswell of support for the change.

3. What playful activities can you schedule?

Traditional Halloween activities include pumpkin-carving, trick-or-treating and apple bobbing. These are all playful activities. What if we approach our learning and change projects with the idea of scheduling similarly playful events to give people opportunities to have fun with the new ideas we’re introducing?

4. How can you extend the change metaphor to touch even food and drink?

Halloween takes shape in our coffeeshop, restaurant, breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Why shouldn’t we do the same for our learning and change projects? Introducing a massive change in your organization? Give it expression throughout the organization, down to the names of the sandwiches and salads on the menu at the corporate canteen.

But how do you achieve sustained impact?

It’s fun to think of all these possibilities, but the challenge is that Halloween and other holidays are fleeting. There’s the lead-up to the holiday, and then it’s all over. Come to think of it, workshops and conferences suffer from the same weakness. For learning and change goals we need sustained impact.

This is where digital coaching stands apart in the learning space. Automated coaching provides 24/7 support to shift mental models and activate behavior change. By tapping into the power of self-reflection and self-explanation, it’s the ultimate trick and treat!

This post was first published on 31 October 2016.