Are you struggling to get people on board when it comes to embracing change in your organization? If you’re nodding your head you’re not alone. Two brutal facts: One, Organizational Change is the new normal for leadership success and all leaders must accept this fact.
And two – studies continue to suggest that close to 70% of organizational change efforts lead fall under the category of unsuccessful outcome. So how can you work with people’s brains to make change easier? And how do you get your team within the 30%?
The main challenge with organizational change has to do with change resistance and with what oftentimes can be categorized as leaders’ lack of skills in dealing with change resistance. The truth of the matter is that change resistance is something that we all struggle with, leaders included, to one extent or another. We encounter change resistance in many facets of our lives, sometimes not even realizing that this is what we are dealing with.
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WHAT DOES ADAPTING TO CHANGE REALLY MEAN?
Adapting to change goes beyond just a positive outlook toward shifts in the workplace. It’s about understanding that change is not just a corporate phenomenon—it’s deeply personal. Often, people express a willingness to adapt without defining actionable steps, leading to the common mistake of setting vague goals.
In a more general sense, adapting to change involves a granular approach to personal transformations. In my research, I found that successful change requires a detailed action plan. It’s not just saying, “I’ll eat healthier” or “I’ll be more patient.” Instead, it’s about outlining precisely what that means, breaking it down into manageable steps, and repeating those steps consistently for 30 to 45 days to form new habits.
Creating an actionable plan for change doesn’t apply only to organizations and change management. Change is present in all areas of your life. Most people dislike it but that’s the only way to grow and move forward.
WHY IS CHANGE IMPORTANT?
Organizational change is important because it can help organizations to adapt to changes in their environment and to achieve their goals. In today’s rapidly changing world, companies need to be able to change quickly and effectively in order to survive and thrive.
In fact, organizational change is the new normal for leadership success and studies continue to suggest that close to 70% of organizational change efforts fall under the category of unsuccessful outcome.
So what is this lack of alignment when it comes to the change initiative and the actual result?
In my experience, having talked with so many leaders and helping companies through change processes, these are the most prevalent challenges when it comes to implementing a change process:
WHERE IS THE PROBLEM WITH CHANGE?
I don’t want to disappoint you, but your brain simply dislikes change. It takes approximately 20% of your brain power to do your daily tasks, which you’re actually used to. Your brain needs additional energy and effort to adhere to new habits or adapt to any new changes. So what’s your brain tendency? It’s just going to stick to what it knows and avoid spending extra energy. That’s horrible. The good news is that you can win the battle with your brain and actually become more adaptable.
When it comes to organizations, change resistance is rooted in the company culture and already established positions and routines.
Fear of Uncertainty
Employees may resist change due to a fear of the unknown, a sense of loss for the familiar, or concerns about how the changes will impact their roles and daily routines. Organizational structures and ingrained habits can also contribute to a lack of change acceptance.
Lack of Communication
The lack of effective communication and clarity regarding the reasons behind the change can create skepticism and resistance. Successfully navigating organizational change requires not only addressing the surface-level concerns but also analyzing the core of these underlying factors. When employees and team members don’t understand the reasons behind the change it will be impossible to create a culture that embraces adaptability. That’s why ensuring transparent communication to build trust will have a tremendous effect in easing the transition.
Lack of Specificity
One prevalent mistake is a lack of specificity in the change plan. Expressing a desire for change without breaking it down into actionable steps sets you up for failure. It’s like embarking on a journey without a clear destination. Specificity is your ally in navigating the twists and turns of change.
Having a clear picture of your goal and your action plan will get you one step closer to actually succeeding at implementing it.
Relying On Motivation
Motivation isn’t constant. It can make or break your change process. Burnout, impatience, and a lack of mental energy can diminish your motivation. Recognizing this, self-care becomes the foundation. Restoring your mental energy through self-care is like fueling your vehicle for a long journey—it’s a must for the trip ahead.
How to Implement Change Successfully
Implementing change successfully requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. The change process involves understanding the intricacies of human behavior, acknowledging the challenges, and actively addressing potential resistance.
One thing I always try to do with my keynotes is relate change to everyday life. This way it gets down to a level that goes beyond organizational change and speaks to the individual person that will be impacted by the change and truly transforms them into a more adaptable and resilient person, that will not be scared of change, be it personal or organizational change.
So let’s see what are the key components of creating a successful plan for change.
It’s so important to articulate the ‘why,’ ‘what,’ and ‘how’ of the change initiative. When you are not specific about these things it becomes very easy for your brain to just drop the idea.
Being specific transforms intentions into tangible results. The human brain is wired to resist change and conserve energy but thrives on clarity and specificity. When you express a desire for change without breaking it down into actionable steps, the brain deals with ambiguity which hinders adaptation. Specificity acts as a guide, reducing the brain’s resistance by providing a clear roadmap.
Let’s say you want to ‘exercise more.’ Without specifics, the brain is left with the vague notion of change, making it easy to fall back into familiar routines. When you have a detailed plan it’s much easier to stick to it.
Creating Good Habits
Creating lasting change involves transforming intentions into habits through consistent, granular actions over an extended period of time. It takes the brain 30-45 days to create a habit, after that it becomes automated and it’s a part of your routine.
Repeating habits is crucial when you’re trying to create a change in your life.
Organizational change is the process of transforming an organization from its current state to a more desirable place. It can involve structure, culture, strategy, processes, or technological changes. Organizational change can be planned or unplanned, and it can be incremental or radical.
Organizational change is strongly tied to the purpose, goals, and culture of the business, with the objective of improving current concerns.
Let’s talk about making a change as a leader. Being adaptable and learning how to create change is such a valuable skill. It’s the key to successful organizational structure and keeping up with different challenges in the market.
Change management is an extreme form of life skills- teamwork, habit formation, time management, interpersonal skills, efficiency, overcoming adversity, and more. When you deal with change all of these become a bit more extreme, hence the difficulties when it comes to implementing change.
To make things easier I’ve created The Triangle of Successful Change Implementation.
Some people have a harder time adjusting to change compared to others.
Accept that your challenge as a leader is to help them not only adapt but also thrive and be productive, without judging them for the challenge that the organizational changes pose for them. They will follow your lead much better if you are accepting and attentive to the challenges that they are going through.
So how do you do that?
Research shows consistently that commitment to change doesn’t work when it is tied to a broad goal. Commitment to change works much better for well-defined, concrete, time-capped habit formation. Define to your team what you want, when you want it by and how. Keep enforcing new, well-defined habits rather than focusing on the larger scale organizational changes. Those are oftentimes way too broad and intimidating to most team members.
The brain dislikes not knowing what to expect and for that reason, change triggers anxiety, and anxiety stands in the way of performance.
It turns out your brain craves certainty in a similar way, and using similar circuits, for how you crave food and other primary rewards. Information is rewarding. A sense of uncertainty resulting from a lack of clarity generates a strong threat or alert response in your limbic system. Think of the brain as a prediction machine. Massive neuronal resources are devoted to predicting what will happen each moment.
You automatically avoid uncertainty. This explains why any kind of change can be hard – it’s inherently uncertain. This is why people prefer things they know over things that might be more fun, or better, but are new and therefore uncertain.
To combat the difficulty and anxiety that are typically associated with change, be as clear as you can. What do you expect? What exactly do you want? When do you want it by? Spell everything out and check yourself over and over again if you were clear. The clearer you are, the better your team performs. Especially in a change-saturated environment.
Good communication is the glue that holds a team together, especially during times of change. Leaders play a crucial role in fostering open and clear communication. When you share information openly, it builds trust among team members, creating a strong bond within the team.
In a team, change can bring uncertainty, triggering anxiety among individuals. Imagine not knowing what’s going to happen— it’s like navigating in the dark. This means you’ll get employees or team members who are not on board with the change. You need to understand why some resist the change. Once you communicate the reasons, you can establish clear rules and boundaries, fostering better collaboration within the team.
In essence, communication acts as a superpower during periods of change. It facilitates understanding, alleviates anxiety, and makes the team stronger. Whether you’re dealing with personal changes or organizational shifts, open and transparent communication is the key to navigating change successfully.
Clarity Is The Key to Organizational Change
When economic conditions are most unstable companies most often need to change, and change quickly if they are to survive. Managers, then, face a daunting task. To help their organizations they need to ensure that employees fully buy into change initiatives and make the necessary changes in their day-to-day behaviors.
Large-scale change initiatives, such as mergers or restructurings, aren’t alone in eliciting strong responses. Even modest initiatives, such as the adoption of a new IT system or a sharper focus on product innovation, can create distress.
Uncertainty Fuels Anxiety and Anxiety Sabotages Productivity.
Your job as a leader is to help your team members embrace change by reducing anxiety and increasing motivation and engagement. There are five main types of unclarity through organizational change:
1. The unclarity of change narrative
2. The unclarity of expectations
3. The unclarity of roles and rules
4. The unclarity of procedures
5. The unclarity of status and sense of competency
Everyone knows that unclarity and uncertainty are stressful. But what is not so obvious is that uncertainty is more stressful than predictable negative consequences, according to recent research from the UCL Institute of Neurology.
3 Steps for Implementing Organizational Change
Here are three simple steps you can take right away to make things clearer and less stressful for your team during organizational change:
Clearly state what you want. It might seem easy, but sometimes leaders aren’t clear about what they want. Make a promise to yourself to be clear first. If you’re not sure about what, why, and how the change is happening, figure it out for yourself before telling your team.
Lead by example. As a leader, everyone’s watching you, so implement the change you’re looking for in your behavior. If you want your team to behave in a certain way, you need to act that way too. Understand what you expect from your team in terms of culture, values, and behavior, and hold yourself to those standards. Your team will notice and follow your lead, creating a reassuring atmosphere.
Keep track of success regularly During organizational change, things can get busy and overwhelming. It’s easy to assume how your team is doing, but that might not be the best approach. Pick 3-5 things that show success and check them regularly, either weekly or monthly. This clarity on what’s happening will give you useful information on where things stand and help you make quick adjustments to support your team through the changes.