The Psychology of Change
As people we enjoy comfort, routine, and a sense of security, but as soon as this is disrupted, we may experience both positive and negative, physical and psychological changes. Change is also prevalent in the working world and many of us would have never experienced change so significantly as we have in the last 24 months during the COVID-19 pandemic. People have not been so psychologically affected on a scale this large since WW2 and as we enter the aftermath of the pandemic leaders face an extremely difficult task; how to facilitate change within an organisation whilst maintaining a positive mindset throughout the team.
Change is essential as it leads to retaining that important edge over competitors. Change is an exciting process that encourages innovation, develops skills, and leads to better business opportunities. The belief surrounding change is that it is inevitable and necessary but can only be achieved successfully if done correctly. If organisations fail to remain clear about their objectives, nor communicate the plan to their team, issues will arise from the outset.
We tend to enjoy change that we can consciously control, buying new clothes or a home renovation for example. However, change that is forced upon us is often unwelcomed and is likely to leave a sour taste between those imposing change and those that change is affecting. As a result, this tends to create a lag between the implementation of a change and the acceptance of it. To work through this lag leaders must respond to the psychological factors that surround change.
It is important to begin with the psychological principles to facilitate change. To affect change inside an organisation we must remember why people resist change. People do not fear change, instead people like comfort. The status quo is more comfortable than the unknown. Change is experiential, we often talk about it being a construct, but at times it is cognitive, physical, psychological and/or emotional and often a combination of both.
Leaders must do their best to ensure that the whole team are on board, understand the benefits but also understand what exactly is changing. There must be a purpose to believe in, that has been communicated effectively. The other psychological principles important in facilitating change are the reinforcement of behaviour and teaching the skills required for change. It is vital to be skilled at communicating in an influential way, to understand how others think, how to connect with them and how to persuade them, so leaders role modelling these behaviours is key.
If employees believe in the overall purpose of the organisation, they will be prepared to change their individual behaviour in support of that purpose, but they will suffer the very real discomfort of psychological dissonance if they do not. It is important for leaders to introduce intentional change, this will provide motivation, energy, and commitment. On the other hand, if leaders impose change to an organisation it tends to lead to demotivation, resistance, and resentment. In essence, people need to be inspired to change not told to change. Let them drive the train, not be a passenger in a carriage.
One of the larger issues that leaders face concerns the ‘one-size fits all’ approach. This fails to consider individual differences and how everybody reacts to change differently. An example of this is the change from office working to home working. As the path of recovery begins post pandemic, a hybrid model of working should be introduced to focus on the needs of the individual, how many times they would like to come into office will differ from person to person. LinkedIn is one of many large organisations taking such a stance, outlining a new hybrid-working plan that will let their employees and team managers decide for themselves how they want to return to the office, if at all.
It is useful for leaders to be aware of, and what to do, regarding individual differences as it is not easy to accommodate every single person, but knowledge of the situation can lead to an efficient plan and strategy. What makes one person positive about a change may not work for someone else, and that is okay. The change must mean something deeper to the individual, that they know will have a positive effect on their personal growth. Giving them an emotional connection to the new behaviour can trigger that shift in perspective
What many people fail to understand is that a lot of what organisations currently do will stay the same despite some change, which feeds into our sense of wanting to continue. People tend to forget that although perhaps a small section will change, the majority may stay the same and they will still be doing a lot of the same things they were previously. A useful way of viewing change and stability is to recognise that while organisations need to adapt to the inevitability of change, they also need to identify and maintain those stable components of their cultures that have positive value. This focus on the positive values that remain will help comfort and inspire individuals that are sceptical of change.
The Importance of Communication
Research suggests that 68 percent of senior managers understand the reasons behind major organisational decisions, but only 53 percent of middle managers and 40 percent of first-line supervisors say their management does a good job of explaining the reasons behind major decisions. Without clear communication throughout an organisation, many will struggle to positively involve themselves in the change.
The first stage of initial communication is the most important of them all. Communicators need to develop a story or narrative that reinforces why change is so important to the survival of the organisation, and why it needs to happen quickly. Furthermore, repetition is key. Not everyone will hear you the first time. Even if you are tired of hearing your own message, there is likely someone is hearing a part of it for the first time or is only now starting to process that part of the message.
Being honest and authentic is important for leaders. What will be difficult initially will benefit staff and the organisation long term. Continuously adapting your strategy is important as many leaders come with a firm, inflexible structure and here is when there seems to be a resistance or resentment of some form. As a result of adapting, employees will feel heard and listened to and will be more likely to buy-in to your strategy.
Diversity in people styles is a good thing but when conflict arises between people with two different styles, the problem usually is a lack of flexibility, not compatibility. The real strength in teams comes in understanding one another and this is best achieved through the influence of role models, not just from top management but at every level. Experts believe change cannot succeed unless role modelling is working efficiently.
“Influence is not really a skill, although it requires skill. Influence is who you are and how you are perceived by others. It is vital to be skilled at communicating in an influential way, to understand how others think, how to connect with them and how to persuade them.” – Suzanne Bates, Author of Discover your CEO Brand.