Change is a given these days. Structural and leadership changes are probably the main ones that spring to mind in an organisation. But the chances are that there are all kinds of changes going on that employees must continually adapt to. So what is your culture like? Are your employees able to respond positively to all of these shifts? Or could the lack of change-readiness in your organisation pose a real threat?
It’s all about perceptionHow employees respond to all of those changes will, of course, vary considerably. An individual employee might feel really positive about plans to do something new. A shift in direction could be seen as a way to progress and innovate, perhaps personally as well as across the wider organisation. Even if the change itself presents challenges, an employee might feel comfortable with that and welcome the new thinking it sparks. But others might not perceive change in such a positive way.
If they anticipate it’s going to have a negative impact on them, they might start becoming hostile towards it
Negative associationsEven if they aren’t quite sure what the impact will be, they might be lukewarm in their response…not actively against it but certainly not advocates. If they anticipate it’s going to have a negative impact on them, they might start becoming hostile towards it – perhaps even actively resisting it.
A multi-level approachTo manage the impact of change, organisations need to be ready to manage a whole range of individual responses. But it’s important to reflect beyond this too and think about how change could affect an organisation at all levels. What could be the impact of the change on collective mindsets as well as on individual ones?
Organisations need to be ready to manage a whole range of individual responses
Managing emotional contagionAlmost inevitably, emotions play a big part in the response to changes. One person’s emotions can have a powerful knock-on effect. Emotional contagion can happen when, having observed the behaviour of one team member, there’s an instinctive imitation of that behaviour by other team members – which, in turn, influences their own emotions. If someone’s enthused about the opportunities that the change could present, even becoming a change champion thanks to the opinions they share and behaviours they exhibit, that could have a really positive impact on the people around them.
One person’s emotions can have a powerful knock-on effect
Nurturing the collective mindsetIf a team member is feeling fearful about the changes, however, their narrative can influence how other team members start to feel. If there’s a team member who is actively resisting change, their thoughts and behaviours could affect the collective mindset, and chip away at all of the efforts to make those changes successful.
Using the right toolsSo how do you know what’s really going on? What insights do you currently have about collective mindsets as well as individual ones? When it comes to managing change, to what extent are you measuring what’s going on in mindsets at the team and organisational level? Think about the types of tools and techniques you are using, or could use, to find out whether you have a culture of change-readiness. They could include surveys, psychometrics and change readiness assessments. And don’t overlook the insights that can come from coaching conversations too.
To what extent are you measuring what’s going on in mindsets at the team and organisational level?
Everyday insightsDon’t underestimate the importance of everyday conversations because many of the signs will be right there. Some individuals and teams might be very open about any negative views they have towards the change. But in many instances it could be far more subtle than that.
Think about the types of tools and techniques you are using
Gaining insights through coachingThis is where coaching conversations can be so valuable, using powerful open questions to draw out and explore beliefs about the change. These conversations can pick up on indicators of change reluctance and also develop a greater understanding of what lies behind them.
Don’t underestimate the importance of everyday conversations
Digging deeperA desire to hold on to ‘the old way of doing things’ can come across in the language used – ‘we’ve always done it this way…’, for example. But it might not automatically be down to change resistance. Dig deeper and it might be connected to worries across the team about having the necessary capabilities to make the change for instance, and a need for reassurance.
Silver liningsNot only will coaching conversations help leaders and managers understand mindsets at every level; these conversations create opportunities to influence them by framing the changes so employees recognise the opportunities they present. The conversations clarify what’s desirable about it, while also acknowledging the fears that might exist both individually and collectively. In some cases the fears might not be valid and reassurance can be given. If the fears are justified, coaching can be used to work through them, exploring options and identifying solutions.
Is it time to reflect on your current thinking and the approach to change in your organisation?