Familiar routines and processes are comforting. Following a well-trodden path is easier and less taxing on the brain. I was reminded of that recently when I went to meet a client for the first time at their new office. Although I checked the directions and carefully planned my route, I still had to focus and concentrate on finding the building and the right entrance to get in. Contrast that with my next visit to them. This time getting there was much easier and more relaxing as I didn’t have to think at all about finding the place.
The brain likes being on auto-pilot and sticking with what is familiar. It saves energy that way. Any change jolts the brain out of that comfortable space. Unknowns and uncertainty instinctively make it go into alert mode; on the lookout for potential threats. When there are a lot of changes going on, with so many unknowns at the same time, it can feel like you’re caught up in a whirlwind of stressful busyness, and unable to get things done. It’s exhausting.
So naturally there is a tendency to want to control and manage the situation. A typical way to do this in organisations is to follow best practice project and programme management guidelines. In most organisations, these are established as the tried and tested safe approach for effective delivery. Established processes are familiar and known. They provide a sense of certainty and a feeling of control that our brains crave for.
The challenge for those of us involved in bringing about change is to avoid jumping into this ‘default’ way of doing things too quickly. It’s tempting to go with what we know. This may satisfy our need for the familiar, and can help us get back to our comfort zone when everything around us is changing. But a standard, one-size-fits-all approach to managing organisational change won’t work.
Here are 4 factors to consider before deciding on your approach to manage change:
1. Type and nature of change
Is it a deeper cultural change that is needed, where people are expected to embrace a new way of working, behaviours and attitudes. The problem often comes when say an office move is treated like a pure logistical move, when in fact people are shifting from fixed desk working to hot-desking. For this to work there needs to be a shift in attitude as well as behaviours.
The greater the impact on people the greater the need for more engagement and communication.
2. Culture of the organisation
Are you trying to turn a tanker or a dinghy? The organisational culture and environment in which the change happens makes a big difference. In a very hierarchical, top-down, command and control type of organisation people may have always been given lots of direction or essentially ‘told what to do’. It is too big a jump to suddenly overnight expect people to be ‘empowered’ to make decisions and form self-directed teams that shape the change. They will need extra support and more guidance initially, to build their confidence and trust.
3. Change ability of the organisation
Understanding how well the organisation currently manages change gives an indication of the effort needed to enable them to manage the change well. The more people that have the skills and know about managing organisational change, the better the chances of success. Taking a view of the strengths and weaknesses around change management capability highlights where more effort is needed to get the organisation change ready.
4. History of change in the organisation
Consider too people’s perception of change and how it was managed in the past. Is there a lot of ‘excess baggage’ and cynicism? Are alarm bells going off at the mere mention of change, because of what happened the last time? The more entrenched any negative views are, the greater the resistance there is likely to be. In this case the change will have a larger impact on people and there will need to be more focus on supporting people through this journey.
It can be easier to jump to the ‘default’ way that worked the last time, but pause! Take a deep breath. Remember this is just your brain’s way of trying to find a short cut. Use the list above as a guide to consider the change within its own unique context, before deciding on the approach to managing the change.
This blog is extracted from Ranjit’s Sidhu’s presentation on ‘Driving transformation through engaged teams’ from Project Challenge Expo, 12 October 2016