We’ve always faced change in the world, but it feels that we’re on a hamster wheel of an increasing amount of change from the political to climate change to understanding how AI is affecting us. The list goes on across our home and work lives. I’ve found that there’s heaps we can learn from our own reactions to change in our personal lives, that can help support us at work in communicating and managing change – and vice versa. Here’s my most recent, top four observations of where the personal and work connect.
We’re creatures of habit
As humans, we like familiarity. In ‘Neuroscience for Organisational Change’ Hilary Scarlett explains that our brains are ‘helpless prediction machines… constantly trying to guess what what’s going to happen to us.’ In short, prediction helps us to short-cut decision-making. So, when we’re in any sort of change – large or small - there’s a level of unpredictability. And our brains don’t like that.
Watch people waiting for trains. I often get a train to client meetings and join commuters who have been using the same service for years. In short, they’ve developed relationships with fellow commuters, get on the train at the same spot and sit in the same seat. These are all habits that work for them to maximise the time available for an early morning doze or watch a film. Disruption to this, by new commuters (like me) or delays creates a level of unpredictability and a heightened awareness of threats eg. their train might be cancelled, or they’ll be late for work.
Organisational change is no different – change brings a level of uncertainty as it’s impacting people’s habits and ways of looking at the world – this time in a work context. The sensitivity to a change in routine that our commuters have, is no different in a work context. So, for example, people start to look much more for meaning in how leaders communicate and behave when change comes along, which, in my experience, leaders can underestimate. People will look for specifics, so, for example, using words like ‘shoulds’, ‘maybe’ and ‘broadly’ can raise more questions than answers and create more uncertainty.
Clearly showing the outcome of a change can help work through objections
When I work in change, we talk about being clear on the why and what of the change – the problem or problems it’s solving, the results and benefits of the change and how it will feel for people. This forms part of helping people to work through the challenges it may bring.
In my personal life, after 10 years of saying no, my in-laws recently became proud owners of their very first tablet (and broadband connection), at the tender age of 90. So, what made them change their minds so quickly? Quite simply, we showed them how they could see and talk to their grandchildren (and great-grandchild) on another continent, through a tablet. Just like our change comms challenge, once the benefits of the change were clear eg. seeing and chatting with the children, the perceived pain of learning to use the tablet – so getting through the change - was massively reduced. No, they’re not on Facebook just yet.
It feels really uncomfortable – and can feel like that for ages
I’ve got lots of examples where the uncomfortable feeling that change brings (that unpredictability again) can have a negative impact on change initiatives. People – including leaders who have to deliver the change - often get ‘stuck’ in the transition between letting go of the old ways of doing things and moving on through the change to the new and it can feel really uncomfortable. In some cases, that move sometimes never happens.
Think about when you’ve moved house in the past and I’ll be surprised if the following isn’t a familiar story. I’ve worked on office moves where the emotional pull of leaving an old building to move to a new, purpose-built facility has been huge for teams. The associations between the building, the emotions and the history were so linked, teams found it very difficult to think about moving to the new, however lovely it – and the new coffee machine - was. It was really uncomfortable. Even with a comprehensive comms and engagement plan, those feelings were still there and needed acknowledging before people could consider thinking about the transition.
It’s good to talk
In the same way that ‘it’s good to talk’ works for us in our personal lives, it’s just the same at work. If you can give people the opportunity to share their concerns and worries and to try to find their own solutions, it can often help. This is how I came into coaching in change – I found that having more structured conversations with people who were in or trying to manage change, helped them to better navigate what was happening.
I’m all about thinking about people first in any change, so do get in touch if you’d like to chat about communications or coaching in change. And, do let me know your personal stories that relate to organisation change.