Head and heart – the science of change

Have you ever noticed that no matter how committed you are to change it always seems to be harder than you think?

Resolve to change is the starting point

When I resolve to make a change in my life I go into ‘research and plan’ mode. I typically mind map the change, decide what needs to be done, add some activities to my next actions list and, often, that’s where it grinds to a halt. It can sit on my task list nagging me for sometimes a week, a month or more. It’s as if it has to filter into my subconscious to mull over before I act. For example, writing this blog took a while and then incorporating some constructive feedback from a valued colleague took longer.

Fear creates resistance

Our prefrontal cortex in the brain is responsible for planning, decision making and moderating behaviour. It is wired to continuously scan for threats. Any change, if seen as a threat, will divert resources in the prefrontal cortex to focus on it until the threat passes. If employees perceive any change as a threat to their daily habits, status quo and their workplace in general, productivity and performance will suffer. These seeds of doubt instantly set up resistance to the change. Try to be open to any doubts raised and explore them.

Lean in

A key to managing successful change is to prepare the leaders to be honest, empathetic and transparent. It is also important to acknowledge the change and treat people with respect. The aim is to make the change as rewarding as possible. So think deeply about the threats that could be triggered in the prefrontal cortex. The best source of information about the changes are the people directly impacted and their team managers who can make or break a change.

It’s important to ask fundamental questions such as:

  • What do people feel that they are losing?
  • What will they gain?
  • How clear is to them about what will change and when?

Don’t underestimate the impacts

The human impact of change is often under estimated and the emotional journey often not acknowledged. Continuous relationship building and good communication are both part of a powerful change strategy. The key to successful change is behavioural – people need to do things differently and embrace it over time. Our brains like habit and routine and it takes the brain a lot of effort to develop new habits. So be mindful of this and walk in others’ shoes for a while.

I find the results gratifying when I work through the resistance while acknowledging it’s there. I also find that during an organisational change you need to be respectful and mindful of everyone’s varying capacity and appetite for your change.

Adopt the growth mindset

Both organisational and individual change takes time but using the growth mindset developed Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University can be fun and fruitful.

The research only tells us what works for some people or organisations, some of the time. It is important to help people explore what works best for them to change, make change stick and measure and share the impact in the workplace. We need to learn ways to sustain the behaviours that create our desired outcomes. To develop a growth mindset you need to focus on learning and improving, work hard, be persistent and reflect on strategies that work or don’t work.

Do you agree? How have you seen this done?