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“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Leon C. Megginson (nope, not Darwin ;-))

More than ever are we being warned to keep adjusting: “Change is the only constant”. With the possibilities that technology brings, it’s almost impossible to remain stagnant. But are people really appreciative of change? The not so surprising answer is no. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about starting to eat healthier or transitioning to an online workspace, change is complicated and often not very enjoyable. However, by offering knowledge and helping people to apply it in the way best fit for them we can turn a stress factor into a power factor.

Why is change so complicated?

Change applies a certain pressure on our brains. Change means taking another path than the usual one (yes, even neurological processes take place on created paths). So when we start doing things differently we have to literally create new paths and that causes discomfort. Discomfort that we turn against because our brains want to avoid the pressure. This discomfort is mainly caused by two common misconceptions we have during change. On the one hand we suffer from cognitive dissonance and on the other hand we think we are already doing everything to change because of the attribution error. Some clarification:

In 1957 Leon Festinger proposed that our brains always seek conformity in his book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. When a new thought or new behavior doesn’t conform to older behavior, the new thought or behavior will subconsciously be changed to reach conformity again. The feeling of discomfort can show up when the expectations that were promised by a change don’t become reality. However, when clearly focussing on the advantages and what can be expected, cognitive dissonance can easily be avoided.

The second mistake we often make is a fundamental attribution mistake. Psychologist Ross proposed in 1977 that we have the tendency to underestimate external, situational factors, whereas we overestimate internal, dispositional factors. Even when we can clearly see that situational factors are at the basis of certain behavior, we still want to blame it on personal factors. So we think we are already doing everything to change, while completely overlooking the external factors.

Our brains aren’t really made for change. Because our brains make a connection between experiences and feelings, change can evoke very negative feelings. At the same time social context can play a big role. People in your surroundings can correct and reward by sharing their opinions. If there’s not enough consideration for these discomforts a change can become unsuccessful.

How can you make sure that a change in a company does become successful? By meeting the requirements for change. With good communication, clear management and guidance a change can be implemented immaculately.

Areas to tackle:

1. Communicate and share information (it really is the difference between success or failure.)

2. Executive sponsorship
If the management doesn’t completely agree and doesn’t act in accordance with the change, the employees will start to hesitate as well.

3. A sense of urgency
The motivation to change will be bigger if it solves problems and/or if the advantages are clear.

4. Timing
Changes take time and cause pressure. People need to take time to get used to new situations. Implementing changes when people are busy and have deadlines will cause more annoyance and resistance.

5. The duration of change
It’s important to estimate the right duration of the changes. Don’t add unnecessary months, but also don’t expect wonders within a day. Finding a balance is essential.

6. Team spirit and team assembly
Changes will happen more easily in a small team with lots of team spirit than in a big team. This is something you should consider when making changes.

7. Feeling safe
Since making mistakes is part of the learning process, people need to feel safe to make these mistakes. People not feeling this safety can lead to changes happening more slowly and, in the worst case, to failure.

8. Courage
Changes require courage. You need to take a risk by doing things in a different way than you’re used to. This is something you need to consider as well.

9. The importance of learning
The importance of learning. Knowledge leads to insights, insights lead to skills and skills lead to behavioral changes.

These requirements for change are different for every organisation. Sometimes certain habits are obstinate, the feeling of urgency is low or there isn’t enough courage to innovate. By identifying the areas for attention and estimating them right, you can approach the change in the easiest way for your company.

How do you make use of these areas?

Over the years you learn to recognize where changes get stuck and what the best solutions are. There are a couple of means of communication that we often use:

1. A clear statement of the board
When the management has one clear vision, a corresponding plan and one voice, the change will become easier for all the underlying layers. The information can be shared in short and energetic messages for quicker processing of information.

2. Giving the change a brand identity
By giving all the communication one brand identity people will immediately know that the communication is about the change.

3. Handing over functional knowledge
Giving trainings and workshops is one of the areas for attention to enable people to understand what it’s about. This can be general, with tips and tricks to make the experience easier, or very extensive.

4. A structural place for the change in team meetings
This gives people the chance to ask questions, give feedback and it helps them with integrating knowledge.

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