On Friday, September 9, 2011, my 12-year-old son and I attended President Barack Obama’s speech at my alma mater, University of Richmond in Virginia. He discussed his Jobs Plan, as a follow-up to his similar pitch to both houses of Congress the previous night. President Obama demonstrated a change management technique I call acquiring “emotional change agents,” individuals who will respond to an emotional appeal and voluntarily become ambassadors for change.



Leaders recruiting emotional change agents use a REACH strategy by building a Relationship with the audience, using Easy-to-understand communication style, presenting an emotional Appeal, delivering a Call to action and promising a commitment to Healing in return.


"Emotional change agents" differ from “strategic change agents,” which are agents who become ambassadors for change from a more holistic strategic appeal.


To see how this speech accomplishes this, let’s look at the REACH components one by one:

  • Building a Relationship with the audience – President Obama used phrases like “It’s good to be in Richmond,” “Everybody is a special guest,” “You guys can sit down.” He also used first names in some of his acknowledgements.
  • Using an Easy-to-understand communication style – As can be seen in this table, President Obama’s speech was written at a 4.9 grade level and with a reading ease of 77.4%, which qualifies very easy (average target = 60-70% ease). (Tip: To assess ease, check out Microsoft  Word’s™ Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tools within MS Word’s Spelling and Grammar tool.)


  • Presenting an emotional Appeal – Notice how Obama’s speech contained “I love you” several times. Note his comments regarding children, an important appeal to families: “We shouldn’t have people teaching in trailers. We shouldn’t have kids learning in trailers. They should have classrooms with Internet and science labs.” Finally, he appealed to the desire for safety, stating that “You’ve got aging bridges on I-95 — need to replace them.”
  • Delivering a Call to action – The call to action is fairly easy to spot in Obama’s speech. He demanded, “Pass this bill” not once, not twice, but ten times.
  • Promising a commitment to Healing – President Obama exults, “[W]e will write our own destiny. It’s within our power…Let’s show the world once again why America is the greatest nation on Earth.”


At least two situations may influence your decision to recruit emotional change agents. The first is audience sensitivity: consider recruiting them when you know your entity or organization has a large proportion of individuals who would respond more effectively to an emotional appeal. The second is time sensitivity: when a full change implementation strategy is not yet available for communication, this technique leverages the interim time available during strategy development, to start moving your audience through the change cycle.



Advantages of this technique

Disadvantages of this technique

  • It galvanizes individuals who may not have otherwise been engaged in the change.
  • It “buys time,” leveraging the change management window available prior to the development of the final plan.
  • Bottom line-focused individuals most interested in the strategy and/or the logistics of the change, may react neutrally or even negatively to the lack of “facts.”
  • For entities struggling with inherent trust issues, rolling out an emotional appeal before a strategic appeal may unintentionally signal that the change is not fully viable.


Individuals responding to an emotional response become change agents by personal choice. Consider how this tool might add value to your change management toolkit. How have you recruited emotional change agents in your organization? Will you consider adding it to your change management toolkit? Why, or why not?


Please share your thoughts, by sending me a message via Contact Us.


Additional Resources:

Here is the full text of President Obama’s speech.

Photos: The Ticket, ©2011, by Karen Smith-Will; President Obama at UR ©2011, by Karen Smith-Will.

Keywords: change management, leadership, President Barack Obama, speech, University of Richmond, emotion, emotional change agents, strategic change agents, REACH, relationship, easy-to-understand, appeal, call, healing, change curve, change load, change management toolkit