At least, long-term change doesn’t. To really make a new way of working stick, or to change a long-standing routine, it can take anywhere between 3 weeks and a year! No wonder we experience fallout – either through people disengaging or change programmes grinding to a halt… There’s so much that’s variable at an individual level: it depends on the individual’s learning preferences, their approach, their motivation, mindset and on and on.
At an organisational level, few organisations have escaped the need for major change in the past few decades, as new technologies, global economic and political impacts have reshaped entire industries. However, the fact that change has become more frequent does not make such changes any easier. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy…not on fighting the old, but in building the new – we all get it! Don’t we…? Research says different!
“More than half of organisations attempting transformation programmes failed”
“Change Management Programmes has a 70% failure rate”
(Kotter, 2012; Keller & Aiken, 2008; Miller, 2002)
“60% of change projects fail to meet schedule, budget and quality goals”
Change is, at its core, a people process, and people are creatures of habit – hard-wired to resist adopting new mind-sets, practices, and behaviours. To achieve and sustain transformational change, organisations (and individuals) must embed these mind-sets, practices, and behaviours at every level, and that is very hard to do — but it has never been more important.
Why do we resist?
There are many reasons why people resist change: a sense that they’ll lose control; a dislike of surprises, uncertainty or spontaneity; a fear that they’ll be seen as incompetent; concerns that their work or daily routine will become more difficult…the list goes on. The perception that just because they’ve been doing something a particular way forever must make it the best way can be a strong belief that’s difficult to alter – to make space for something new means doing away with something old, and this is the part that frightens us. ‘Old’ is familiar and trusted, we know what to expect and what’s coming. New could be good, but it could also be rather stressful. New is unknown – exciting to some, but terrifying to others. How are we expected to be positive about something that terrifies us?
Shifting the Thinking
Thinking positively has a chemical effect on our brain, releasing serotonin and decreasing cortisol whenever we choose to focus on the things that are making us and can make us, happy. Our brains are designed to be receptive to such stimulus, and function at peak capacity whenever we feel good.
Behavioural scientists have shown that not only are optimistic people more successful, persistent and resilient but that they also live longer. Other benefits a happy brain brings include:
- A happier, richer and more fulfilled life
- Good relationships
- Better health habits
- Stronger immune systems
- A fuller social life
- Better resilience and agility to change
Conversely, negative thinking also has its own effects. Negative thinking slows our brains and makes it more difficult to focus, process thoughts and find solutions. The fear of a negative outcome has been proven to decrease activity in our cerebellums and to affect our left temporal lobes, the consequences of which decrease our ability to process new information or find creative solutions, as well as knocking our mood, memory and impulse control. If, therefore, we found ourselves in a stressful situation, by only focusing on the negatives, we’d be kept in the cycle/situation far longer than if we chose to weigh up the positives of our experience.
So how does this all factor into change…? Whilst various experts have different models concerning the process of change, there’s one thing most would agree on – that there are separate stages the individual must experience before the change actually ‘sticks’. Omitting stages is usually the reason good intentions and best-laid plans fail, as we have allowed for cynicism to run riot – the brain’s natural reaction to protect us from pain…
So what are the separate steps that change requires?
John Kotter believes there are eight distinct stages. However, we’re going to suggest a model that involves five separate components and that we have found to be simple and effective…
Right, let’s begin. Here’s an equation for you:
(D+V+B+S) > R
Don’t worry… by the end of this post, it will all make sense! Let’s explain what the separate letters represent.
D = DISSATISFACTION with the current state
If everything was going fabulously, why would you change it? There has to be a problem, issue or reason behind the change process because otherwise, you wouldn’t bother. ‘D’ can also represent a great opportunity that’s better than what you’ve got now. As we may have experienced, people tend to be decline change, unless the pain of staying the same becomes too great… let’s make the reason really clear for all to understand and be compelled to move away from.
V = VISION of the possible future
Essentially, having an end goal. Aimless steps and plans with no finality go nowhere. The vision must be better than the current status quo, or again, there’d be no reason to continue. Visualising results makes them real. Leaders play a crucial role here to engage on a personal level with people – to create a clear picture by telling their story of what success will look like and making this compelling so can clearly see and feel the business and personal benefits. The possible future should energise all to want to move towards this at pace.
B = BELIEF that change is possible
Many of us could be dissatisfied with our level of fitness, for example, and envisage being healthier and more active. However, if we envisage that we could outrun and outperform Usain Bolt, we may fail because our inner critic doesn’t have to work too hard to convince us that this desire is out of our reach. Whilst dreaming big is commendable, and given that some people may well have the potential to become Olympic athletes, change predominantly works if the outcome is achievable and realistic. Taking the time to engage the ‘hearts and minds’ of people – describing the vision in great detail and, most importantly, what is in it for them will support a gradual growth in belief.
S = STEPS to be taken
To go from A to Z, you need to pass the other 24 letters in-between. Having an end goal is essential, but getting there from your starting point requires a plan if the change is to be successful. Breaking down what could seem a tough journey into bite-sized manageable steps helps disperse the fear of change, and allows you to measure your progress. Part of this could be to include various team members to help accelerate the change or to be on hand to support any potential hurdles. These ‘champions’ of the change will act as your catalyst to a successful result.
R = RESISTANCE to successful implementation
Even when you think you’ve formed a new habit or enforced change, there may be occasional slip-ups, memory lapses or a rebellious urge to go back to your old routine/ways. For quite a while after a change has occurred, there’s the possibility that it won’t always ‘stick’; the length of this transitional period differs for everyone. Eventually, though, with perseverance, the new habit or skill will become second nature and won’t require conscious effort to enforce it. Having someone on hand to support – maybe even to coach people through those moments of doubt will ensure a smooth transition.
(D+V+B+S) > R is the change process as a mathematical equation. Essentially, the impact of D, V, B and S combined outweigh the possibility of R. If one of the elements is skipped, lacking focus or missing, the equation becomes imbalanced, and the likelihood that change will fail to anchor itself will increase. The elements on their own are not enough to instil effective change either – all must be present and given particular focus and attention.
The role of people managers when a change occurs in the workplace is fundamental and creates even greater opportunities – it’s not a linear, one-way process. Interaction, feedback, guidance, analysis, humility, honesty, listening, support and the willingness to adjust are important when large-scale change is necessary – the skills and behaviours required are extensive. Change can be an emotional journey for many people, which needs to be approached carefully if we are to avoid a ‘them and us’ situation, which points us to leaders leading inclusively and authentically for the very best results.
Here at Emerge, we offer full change leadership, executive coaching and can help organisations create that inclusive and authentic leadership culture. For an informal, no obligation chat about your needs, contact us on 01329 820580, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.