Why do some people take organisational change personally?

Dealing with any kind of change can bring out an emotional response in people – and when we get emotional, things get personal.

In this podcast, Rob and Paul discuss why some people take organisational change personally, and how thinking of ‘ice’ – Information, Choice and Engagement – will help managers thaw any frosty relationships with their people.

An emotional response to change is natural. It usually starts with shock and uncertainty before moving on to denial and feeling threatened. We only see the bad things and what’s being taken away from us.

These feelings can grow into resistance if left unaddressed and if we don’t feel that we have a choice in the process of change. If people feel they have no idea what’s going on, that uncertainty can very easily turn to an introspective feeling of unfairness, helplessness, despondency and loss of control. This often leads to people being negative, resisting change and sabotaging the process.

As a manager, it’s vital to lead your people successfully through change. Thinking of ‘ICE’ could help: Information, Choice and Engagement. Giving people information in answer to their questions about change will help to ease their uncertainty. But, because people who are feeling emotional won’t immediately process the information they’re given, it needs to be provided consistently and repetitively. Also think about who provides the information, whether that’s you as a manager or someone else.

Move as much choice back to your people, to give them control over details that affect them. For a start, give them a choice about whether they even want to be involved and, if so, to what degree.

Engage people as they go on the journey of change. There are thousands of things, from small details to larger activities, that need to happen for organisational change to take place, so engage people in what’s relevant and meaningful to them.

Why do some people think that managers are keeping secrets?

When senior managers drive change, they can get stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they may not be able to share certain, sensitive information. But if they don’t give their workforce enough details about what’s happening, people will become dissatisfied, suspicious and unproductive.

In this podcast, Rob and Ricky discuss how and why this happens, and the impact that a growing perception that senior managers are keeping secrets can have on an organisation.

In the absence of any clarity or information about change in the workplace, people start to fill in the blanks. Sometimes, it’s with information that may be true – but more often than not, it’s massively assumptive and untrue.

There are many reasons why senior managers do not share information with their people. Some information is confidential or sensitive, or may be withheld because of the perceived reaction it would cause. Sometimes, managers are trying to protect their people.

During times of change, there will be people who embrace it and are proactive about asking questions. They’re a breeze to manage. But there will be others who start to fill in the blanks and – worse still – go recruiting others who are easily influenced by their opinions. Why do they do it? Because they are looking for meaning and certainty when they have a lack of information. They want that classic ‘comfort blanket’. This links to our previous podcast about why people look for evidence that supports their point of view.

Everyone is making assumptions: Employees are filling in gaps with information they don’t know to be true, and managers are deciding what information they think is relevant to their people.

So how does this impact the workforce? Effects can range from falling engagement levels and rising dissatisfaction to people asking difficult questions and spreading false information. Some employees will cause a fuss while others may withdraw into themselves. All of this can lead to a drop in productivity and efficiency.

What can senior managers do about it? It’s crucial to keep people informed and engaged, to tell them what’s going on and why. And involve people in the journey, especially the most cynical or critical ones!

Welcoming a new change and development expert to our team

We’re delighted to welcome Graham Field to our team following recent strong growth at Thinking Focus.

Graham is an experienced consultant, facilitator and coach with more than 20 years’ experience in delivering a range of development and change programmes for organisations across the UK.

An advocate of encouraging people to develop simple, effective action plans, Graham turns learning into results, and will be a great asset to us as we continue our work with clients. He’ll also support the roll-out of our new gamified learning tool for management development, What Would You Do?

Graham’s career in the industry began in a retail bank, before working with organisations in a variety of sectors, including contact centres, the NHS and local government, manufacturing, FMCG, retail, health and leisure, hospitality, property services and charities. He has supported and developed all levels of staff, from front line, through team leaders, managers and project managers, to senior leaders and board members.

Highly skilled in one-to-one coaching, structured development programmes and team facilitation, Graham has developed programmes world-wide and is passionate about achieving measurable outcomes. He’s an expert in removing self-imposed limitations and organisational interference to unlock individual and organisational potential.

He says: “I’m delighted to be joining Thinking Focus at this exciting time in their development. Like them, I believe that development should be simple and easy to understand, and motivate participants to apply their learning on to their role. It can make a massive difference to the individual and, by default, to the organisation they work for.”

Thinking Focus director Ricky Muddimer says: “Graham’s approach to delivering people productivity solutions fits perfectly with ours, and his depth of experience within the industry means he’ll play a key role in driving Thinking Focus forward, continuing to build our reputation as one of the leading organisational change experts in the UK.”

Unconscious bias: The Starbucks dilemma

So Starbucks in America is closing all its stores for the day to undertake training on unconscious bias, following on from an incident in one of its stores.

Now, I am not going to comment or go into the incident itself – there are plenty of others doing that just fine.  I am more interested in the role of unconscious bias in all this.

Unconscious bias refers to a bias in our decision making that is happening outside of our awareness.  These biases are mostly helpful, but they can backfire on us, causing us to make inappropriate or just bad choices – such as the one that leads to Starbucks closing 8000 stores!

What is unconscious bias?

When people talk about unconscious bias they are actually talking about a whole range of different cognitive biases (and there are a lot), and specifically about the ones that lead to poor decisions.  These could be biases we have around issues such as age, race, gender, sexuality or disability, but they can also just as easily be biases in the workplace around seniority, education or even the roles that we do.

These biases have been learned by each of us over time, based on our experiences and environments, and act as cognitive shortcuts, helping us to make decisions. They are formed in our heads as part of the process of us working out who we are.

We create our own identity by becoming part of a groups. I am not talking about joining the local whatever club, but rather the way we identify ourselves as being like other people in an informal grouping. To define the group, some people need to be in it (in-group) and so some people need to be outside it (out-group).

We slowly learn to appreciate all the good things that being in the group offers, while at the same time noticing all the reasons why we would not want to be in the out-group, ensuring that we have made the right choice.  Each and every one of us is in lots of groups, and it is the mix of the groups that goes to the core of who we are.  This all happens outside of conscious awareness, so when this small and subtle biases kick in, generally we have absolutely no idea.

The psychologist Jonathon Haidt uses the wonderful metaphor for the mind of an ‘unconscious’ elephant with a ‘conscious’ rider. The rider is trying its best to influence and nudge the elephant into doing the right thing, but really the elephant is in control, making decisions that the rider then needs to explain away. Because these decisions happen outside of awareness, often the rider does not even know they have happened, so will act as if this a rational, thought-through decision, when it may not be.

By now, you are probably thinking, “So what? This does not affect me,” – but the thing is, it affects all of us, all the time.

Unconscious bias and diversity

Let me give you an example: if you are recruiting, unconscious biases will play out in who you pick. Clearly, if one person can do the job and the other does not have the skills, you will make a rational choice, but when all other things are equal, then the decision is made by the ‘elephant’.

Over time these biases mean that we end up making the same decisions over and over again. This is one of the main reasons why many organisations struggle with diversity in their senior ranks.

The best teams and organisations require diverse thinking and decision making.  We need leaders and managers who are making decisions not biased by their past, but made rationally about the organisation’s future. This is only possible when we acknowledge that everyone has unconscious bias, and without being aware of it, we can all make decisions that might not be in our, or our organisation’s, best interest.

Understanding the effects of unconscious bias does not stop it, but allows us to check our decisions, make allowances for the biases that we all have, and make better decisions. Starbucks thinks this is worth taking a day… Do you?

 

By the way, if you want to find out more about the unconscious biases you may hold, psychologist have developed a test. It is called an implicit association test, and it mixes up our views on different areas of bias, with language associated with good and bad. 

By mixing up these different categories and then measuring the difference in how quickly we can respond these tests identify areas of automatic associations between mental representations.  Or put it more simply, the test pokes below the conscious layer and gives us a glimpse of what we really think. 

You can find these tests online, such as the set produced by the team at Project Implicit.

Why having purpose behind change is fundamental to success

Imagine setting off on a journey.

You leave your home and you know you want to get to a city further away – but you haven’t decided why you want to go or what you’ll do when you get there.

Along the way, you stop off at another town. You look around and find somewhere to eat, then you start exploring the landmarks, enjoying the views and finding some hidden gems. Before you know it, you’ve forgotten all about going to the city and you’re staying in the town – or heading back home.

By contrast, if you set off with a purpose in mind, you are far more likely to stick to your journey and to reach your destination without being distracted by something else before you arrive.

How does this apply in business?

Whenever we’re called in to support an organisation facing change, one of the first questions we ask is, “Why?”

“Why?” is always the starting point for successful change. Without knowing your Why, you can’t hope to get the How, When, Who of Where right.

Having purpose behind change is absolutely fundamental to success. Understanding why change is needed gives you the best possible chance of staying on course to achieve your aims.

Think about it: if you don’t know why you need to make change, it affects everything else in the process.

You will struggle to set the most appropriate end goal if you can’t articulate the reasons for setting it in the first place.

Your method of achieving your goal may be flawed if you don’t fully understand why the change is needed.

You can’t possibly convince your team of the merits of what’s ahead if you’re unsure of them yourself..

How do you establish the purpose of change?

Recognising that change is needed is only the first part of the story. It’s surprising how many people fail to look at the bigger picture at this early stage, ploughing on with the change regardless and soon losing sight of what they wanted to achieve in the first place.

We recommend starting out with a thorough examination of your project. Try answering these questions:

  • What aspect of your business needs to change?
  • What is it that’s not working at present?
  • What does future success look like?

In combination, the answers to these questions will give you your purpose of change.

Getting your team to buy in to change

Once you’ve established your purpose, getting your team to buy in to change is vital – and helping them to understand the purpose of change will be the most important factor in your success.

We frequently come across managers who think that, by simply telling their team what is going to happen, they are saving them from the extra burden of needing to understand why. Their intentions are good, but all that happens is that team members feel dictated to, rather than buying into what lies ahead. The change process is inevitably less successful.

People change faster when they have purpose. Explaining why your organisation needs to change will engage people more quickly with the new ways of working. If we believe in the why, we can accept the smaller process changes as being justified.

Share the purpose of change with your team and you might be surprised by their enthusiasm. If they can see the end goal, as well as what future success will mean to them, they are far more likely to play an active role in achieving it. Not only will they be more willing to follow instructions, but they may also chime in with their own contributions and help to add a new dimension to the project.

What next?

Once you have established your purpose and got your team to buy in, turn your thoughts to the routes to success. In most cases, there will be several ways in which you could implement change, with variation in cost, timescale, effort and so on. As above, your team may also bring forward new suggestions you hadn’t even considered.

Analyse them all in relation to the success you need to achieve before choosing the way forward.

By establishing the purpose of change, you can transform the entire project and hugely escalate your chances of success.

 

Planning workplace change and want to ensure you have the best possible chance of success? Contact us to find out how we can help.

How can you calculate the cost of change?

One of the most challenging things about change for any organisation is facing the unknown.

You may know what needs to change, or why you want to change, but can you ever really be sure how the process will go – and, more importantly, what it will cost?

This uncertainty is never more acute than when you look at the human factors which can influence the way change is implemented. Some people are simply more adaptable to change than others – and some have a stronger attachment to their current ways and bad habits.

Whenever any change is implemented, the workplace itself goes through a transition process which may take longer than the change itself. For example, if a workplace were introducing a change in working hours or shift patterns, that might happen overnight. The transition for the team, however, will take much longer, as they accept the change and adapt to it.

Any manager considering change needs to weight up the potential costs of change against the costs of not implementing that change. While it can seem easier to maintain the status quo rather than causing upheaval, the reality is that doing nothing could be costing you money.

So where do you start?

Looking at the costs of change can feel daunting, so we’ve created a simple formula to help you make sure the numbers stack up and give you the confidence to implement change as effectively as possible.

Calculate your answers to the following questions:

  1. How many employees are likely to be affected by the changes in your organisation?
  2. On average, how much non-productive time is spent per week by each employee reacting against the changes – or on worrying, gossiping, speculating and rumour-mongering activities?
  3. How many weeks has this been going on for?
  4. How many weeks will it continue for if you do nothing?

Then use these numbers in the following formulae:

  1. The number of hours lost so far: a x b x c = x
  2. The number of additional hours that could be lost in future: a x b x d =y
  3. How much it could be costing you financially: (x + y) x average employee hourly rate

Of course, this doesn’t take into account any additional potential revenue which you may have missed, such as if your sales team has failed to focus on the needs of your customers in the way that would have generated more profit for you. In reality, the cost is probably even higher than these calculations suggest.

In considering change, no doubt you’ve done some calculations of your own, looking at how your new system, set-up or project could make the business more successful. Compare those figures with the amount you’re currently losing and suddenly, the need to manage change effectively becomes even more urgent. Resistance from employees not only costs you money now, but also delays the benefits you should be getting from your plans.

If you’re preparing for change, our advice would be to consider all the costs first. Weigh up the cost of staying as you are against the cost of change, then analyse how much higher the cost of that change will be if you don’t implement it effectively.

Rather than waste money down the line as your employees struggle to get to grips with transition and resist a change they have never fully embraced, invest from the outset in getting everyone on board. It will reward you with significant savings in the long run and enable you to reap the benefits of change much sooner.

Don’t worry if you looked at this and thought, Oh no, maths!  We have created a worksheet that will help you with the calculation.  This is a great exercise to complete with your colleagues, as it builds the momentum to take control of the change and do something different.  So, once you have downloaded it, print out a few copies.

Why do people go looking for evidence that supports their point of view?

Change in the workplace can take people out of their comfort zone and make them feel uncertain, powerless and, even, angry.

In this podcast, Rob and Ricky discuss why people look for evidence that supports their perception that change is difficult and undesirable. They also offer suggestions about how leaders and managers can help their teams to navigate and embrace change.

Resistance to change is a natural reaction in most of us. We like doing things the way we’ve always done them, and we don’t like having to learn something new or do something in a different way. It makes us feel like we’re not in control.

So when change is foisted upon us, we look for evidence that supports our deep-held belief that things were fine the way they were. We don’t like being made to accept someone else’s point of view and we want everyone to conform to our perception of the world. It’s classic ‘comfort blanket’ behaviour!

Change in the workplace is often viewed by employees as inconvenient and detrimental to their ability to carry out their job effectively. They’ve made that assumption and they go looking for proof to back it up.

Managers can address these concerns by helping their staff to see change as an opportunity. They can ask people to look for evidence by all means – but evidence that supports the positive outcomes of change. Explaining the reasons why things have changed can also be very effective: perhaps it has helped eradicate a problem, streamlined a system or opened up new opportunities. Usually change is about progress. Give people the answers they need. Explain how change might help them to do their job more effectively or simply. Show them the bigger picture.

By turning a problem-orientated mindset into a positive one, we can understand that change may mean different, but it doesn’t have to mean difficult or bad.

Why do some managers allow people to opt out of change?

Change can mean upheaval for everyone in a team. But why is it that, while some people engage and do their best, other people simply opt out and carry on as if nothing has happened?

In our latest podcast, Richard and Ricky discuss the reasons why these situations arise – and what can be done to tackle them.

There are several reasons why a manager would allow certain team members to opt out of change. It could be that the manager doesn’t have the skills to challenge the behaviour of the team members resisting change, or that the manager views this team member as a crucial player in the team and tackling them could reduce their productivity or even make them leave.

Whatever the reason, Richard and Ricky say allowing some people to get away with this creates a two-tier system, where some team members are allowed to do things in a way that other team members are not able to get away with.

So how do you tackle it?

Richard and Ricky discuss how to engage with resistant team members and get them to want to be part of the solution. Giving them some responsibility that will mean they have to behave in the right way and show those behaviours to others can be crucial, as Ricky describes through one of his own experiences.

They talk about sitting down with the person and talking through the reasons for the change, as well as their concerns. By unpicking their thinking and talking about the impact of their behaviour on the team, you can better understand their thought process and help them to see that they do need to engage with the plans.

If you can’t engage with them and they won’t change despite your efforts, you need to be clear about what that means – is this the right role for them? Even the highest achievers need to be team players, otherwise the benefit of their achievements can be undermined by the negative impact of their attitude.

Why do some people think that change can be bad for their career?

When workplace change is announced, some people assume it will mean their career progression is taken off course – but is that always the case?

In our podcast, Ricky and Richard discuss how combating your initial reaction can help you to embrace the opportunities that change presents and even use them to benefit your career.

Change often means uncertainty – what if the change that’s coming doesn’t match up to how you see your career mapping out? Perhaps you’re happy with where you are, or you know the steps you need to take to reach your career goal. Change may take you in a different direction and leave you feeling unsettled.

Fear of the unknown triggers an emotional reaction and can lead to soul-searching. But instead of allowing your emotions to take hold, Ricky and Richard discuss how you can take control of your reaction to what lies ahead. If you feel confident in your own ability and where your skills lie, you can find a way to have a positive impact.

Essentially, instead of seeing change as a threat, look at it as an opportunity.

Recognise that your initial reaction will be concern, which is only natural. Depending on the scale and nature of the change, you may feel shock or fear. Our brains are programmed to feel comfortable with the status quo and, when something disrupts that, we fear loss – losing colleagues, losing the type of work we’re used to and so on – rather than anticipating gain.

Ricky and Richard remind you to have an open mind to what is being proposed, rather than making negative assumptions and looking for evidence to back them up. Embrace the ways in which you can be part of the change and even benefit from it. The steps you need to take may not be the ones you imagined, but you can plan out new steps and even find a better goal than you had initially.

Why do some people think an emotional response will get them what they want?

Emotions are a normal part of change but in the workplace some people believe an emotional response will allow them to get their own way. In our podcast, Richard and Rob explore why this happens and how managers can respond when emotions are running high.

There are times in the workplace when some people think stamping their feet and shouting loud enough will get them what they want. In the podcast, Richard and Rob discuss how change can often trigger an emotional reaction and this is completely normal. In some cases, it can even be helpful as it may be a way of releasing the pressure people feel they are under.

They go onto explore how given time most people will arrive at a more considered and rationale response where they can start to make sense of the situation. Richard explains how it’s useful to get clarity about what is happening and to surround ourselves with people who are a positive influence. It’s helpful to recognise an emotional reaction as normal, write down everything that’s going through the mind and then question whether our perceptions are real. An emotional response might be triggered because our view of the future has been threatened and is different to our imagined version.

Rather than stewing in an emotional state, Richard and Rob examine how we should seek out answers to any questions and gain greater clarity about the situation. By bringing back a level of control, we can make plans, help to re-direct things and search for meaning.

The pair summarise their discussion by exploring how leaders and managers have an important role to play when it comes to being aware of other people’s behaviours and offering support.