Head, Heart & Hands Framework

In Leadership

By Michael Tonkin

The Head, Heart and Hands framework originates from the work of Best Buy, one of the worlds biggest and best retailers and is a tool that can be used in many ways when talking change.

It has been proven time and again that dynamic change happens on three levels – intellect, emotion and behaviour.

Exhibited behaviours – the ones demonstrated by employees every day are merely the surface that emerges, anchored to massive below-the-surface thoughts and emotions. This principle is commonly referred to as: ‘The Iceberg Principle’.

The Iceberg Principle is a common sociological principle that illustrates the indisputable fact that merely 10% of culture is ‘surface culture’ (seen through hard facts) and 90% of culture is much deeper (emotional and subjective) – hidden, unspoken, even unconscious.

In organisational culture, it is no different. 10% of the culture is seen. 90% is hidden. When introducing change, the organisational level is merely scratching the surface, while the emotional level runs deep.

The deep cultural level, where the Head and the Heart exist is the basis of how people work.  It includes values (company and individual), norms (acceptable and unacceptable behaviours – both explicit and implicit), identity (connections and niche), as well as relationships and attitudes.

It is important to note that while each component (Head, Heart, and Hands) is critical to the transformational process, the focus, depending on the change itself may require different levels of focus. Since change is dynamic, the approach used to help further the change must also be dynamic.


The Head part of the change frame is a focus on the intellectual understanding of why the changes must take place. Focusing on this aspect helps employees understand the big picture and the rationale for why the change is happening in the first place.

Employees have, over time, developed mental models and paradigms that shape their thinking and define their behaviours. These mental models are not ‘bad’, just that some of them are simply expiring. By addressing the Head piece, there is somewhat of an unwinding that must occur as employees begin to reshape their understanding of what will make them – and ultimately, the organisation successful.

What employees want to know about the Head piece:

  • The mission – how has it altered and why?
  • Where are we going? Where will we end up?
  • How will we reach our destination?
  • What are our collective goals? Our team goals?   My goal?
  • How are you so sure we can win this way?


The Heart piece is where emotion lives. This area defines motivation, attitude and commitment, and where determination abounds. This part is often the hardest to penetrate because it is deep down –  the deepest part of that iceberg – and until you plunge into the water, you are uncertain how deep it really goes. Additionally, much of what is in the Heart is hidden, unspoken, unrevealed. As such, it must be unearthed, coaxed out to safe ground where it can be carefully addressed.

Without allowing space for the Heart to be revealed, the change cannot occur. Whatever is not exposed cannot be dealt with, it remains in the dark, often coming out in the Head and the Hands piece and thwarting change efforts. Whatever is in the light is exposed and can be properly addressed. This is where true change occurs.

Most employees are dynamic individuals who have developed conviction over time. This conviction has, overall, brought resounding success to their organisations. It is no small feat to maintain the conviction while teaching employees to embrace something new and, arguably, to let go of things that have deep meaning. Once the Heart piece is in place, though, and employees have refined their conviction and recommitted, the changes become more palatable and dynamic.

What employees want to know about the Heart piece:

  • What have I gained? What have I lost?
  • How will my relationships be impacted?
  • What am I risking? Is it too great of a risk?


The hands piece is the demonstrable action that most specifically indicates where change is occurring. The Hands piece is all about behaviours. These behaviours must be learned by the employees, shaped and moulded by the leadership to help everyone understand: “What am I supposed to do differently tomorrow?”

The Hands piece is much more than mere process. It is much more than telling employees: “Here’s how you do this now.” Rather, it is a balancing act between tools and teaching, coaching and correcting, challenges and feedback. The Hands piece is where resilience comes to the front and where leaders must encourage, teach, coach and recognise the smallest of movement forward, celebrating another milestone in the transition towards change and the desired end-state.

What employees want to know about the Hands piece:

  • What do I need to do differently tomorrow?
  • What do I know how to do today that can be applied to the new world tomorrow?
  • How am I supposed to do my job differently?
  • What support/training will I have in order to make me successful?

So, take a step back and reflect on previous change in your organisation and assess against the Head, Heart and Hands framework. Equally, look forward to the next change you want to implement and how you can ensure a smooth transition by addressing all three levels.

This blog is taken from our Leading Change eBook. Download your copy today.

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