In todays fast paced, hyper connected, global economy, change in organisations is the new norm. With a constant drive to be innovative, global and flexible, our business leaders, strategists and business improvement specialists are driving for the next saving, the next opportunity to leverage current products or be the first to market with new ones.
Mount Eliza business school found that over 70% of change initiatives failed because of peoples resistance to it. This is significant when considering the cost of failure to a business. In many cases, change initiatives that are implemented in organisations are process or product/client orientated. However, in many cases change initiatives don’t always effectively plan for and consider how their people might deal with and respond to change. If they did, execution and implementation of the change might be more effective and “stick”more.
For a minute, lets step outside of process and consider the human element in change. Change for our brains hurts, even when faced with a life threatening situation (a recent friend was diagnosed with lung cancer after years of smoking and still wont give up) people still tend to resist change.
Our brain is an energy conserving machine and every time we have to calculate or assess change or future predict what might happen to us after the change we consume vast amounts of brain energy.
In order for any change effort to succeed, we not only need to rewire the brains of the individuals’ involved in the change but also the collective brain of the organisation. So what are the key insights from neuroscience that might help us with change?
Our brain runs from change
Our limbic system filters all our responses. The motivation behind much of our behavior is driven by the desire to minimise threat and maximise reward (Gordon, 2000). In other words, it is hard wired to run away from things that scare our brain and towards things that make us feel ok. If we sense a ‘threat’ our brain goes on red alert and organisational change signifies a great threat from a certainty perspective. We can choose to suppress this feeling or to self-regulate in a number of ways, but it’s more complicated than that.
Since the limbic system acts as a survival tool, it frequently overacts. Finding ways to reduce threats not only for ourselves but the people around us (so this is very important for leaders navigating people through change) is important in order to help keep ourselves and others in a reward state.
From a change readiness perspective it is also important to understand the domains that trigger these threats in our brain. Once we understand this we can tame these threats and support our people to be more prepared for change and also ready to support its implementation. The 5 key interdependent domains that trigger threat or reward in our brains make up the SCARE model and looks at Significance, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Equity as areas we need to plan for in a change implementation.
Prime for Performance
In an article published in the NeuroLeadership Journal, ‘Lead change with the brain in mind’, Whiting refers to a 3 step model for brain based change. The first step in this model is to create a toward state. In other words support people to understand where they are going in the change and communicate it in a way that it supports them to manage the things that SCARE their brain. For example, tell them what you can as often as you can to provide certainty. Make sure this is in small chunks of information, regularly so people have time to process it. Allow people to be engaged into the change process and support and encourage collaborative input to ensure people feel they have an equitable say.
The good news is we can change and people can engage into a change process effectively… it just takes effort and focus, before the change process commences to make change stick. Norman Doidge in his book ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’ showed just how neuroplastic the brain is. Change leaders can support neuroplasticity and change in the individual and the collective brain of the organisation by supporting them to build brain fitness.
Building brain fitness in your people and those that are the change leaders in your business is really important to change stick ability. For change leaders to be effective in facilitating change they also need to support their own brains default to protect itself during change.
As leaders, we need to be ‘thinking about our thinking’ and noticing when we, or others, are paying too much attention to a problem rather than focussing on a solution. Neuroplasticity is such a powerful tool that we can create and strengthen new pathways, just by our thoughts and imagination and support people to be change ready and gain a higher return on investment on change solutions.
Watch this video for more on how to make change stick
Tara Neven is the Co-Founder and Director of neuresource group, a venture that embeds cutting-edge neuroscience research into practical applications for business and the workplace.
Tara is an entrepreneur, business strategist, facilitator, learning and development and collective leadership specialist. She has over 15 years experience in corporate learning and development, education, business growth and organisational development.
Tara is a regular contributor to a number of online and print publications and has presented as Key Note Speaker and Master of Ceremonies at a number of Australian industry conferences on subjects such as building ‘brain friendly’ organisations, leadership development, and human capital value.
Tara can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org