The Inconvenient Truth About Change – Part One

Change is everywhere. It influences everything and while we may welcome a change in the season, in the scenery, or a new relationship it’s often spoken about as a negative, especially in relation to work.

“All this change is too much!”
“It’s all changing too fast!”
“I’m sick and tired of all this change.”

Change, especially organisational change has developed a bit of a bad reputation. Change management is talked about as a challenge. Many say it is hard. But that doesn’t mean we have to EXPECT it to be that way. The problem with expectations is we seek then to confirm them. If we expect a change initiative to fail, that automatically increases the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Our negativity bias can also skew how we interpret our results seeing success as a fluke and failure as proof of difficulty.

Which is why it’s time for a reframe of how we look at change because change is the lifeblood of innovation, providing the DNA for our future.

Change is evolution at work.

It is a constant.

It is about people. Which is why the problem isn’t with change itself, but with our perceptions, beliefs and behaviours.

We fear change.

Imposed change is perceived as a threat by the brain. Our internal radar continually scans the environment seeking to identify anything new or different on our mental horizons. In that moment the brain has to quickly determine whether this puts you in a place of potential danger or not, and because the brain’s primary objective is to keep you safe, the default setting is to assume danger first and fill in the details later.

This evolutionary response suited very well at the time when we were at risk of becoming a sabre tooth tiger’s mid-morning snack and remains in use today, when dealing with those predatory events such as road rage, getting ready for a performance review or dealing with a toxic work colleague.

Change induces a state of fear and uncertainty and it is the latter that makes us so uncomfortable. Geopolitical events aside, job insecurity, proposed organisational restructure (read redundancies) and financial concerns keep brains in a state of high alert and skewed towards that negativity bias.

It’s harder to feel optimistic, enthusiastic or motivated to put in the effort time and energy to make the change work if you’re feeling stressed, worried or just plain tired. This is why leading change starts by reducing threat, maximising the potential reward the proposed change will bring and making it as easy as possible to implement.

Gird your loins chaps, the threat of change has arrived at the drawbridge.

You may have noticed that how you respond and deal with a proposed change is very much dependent on how you feel at that given moment. If you’re expecting it to be tough, that it’s going to end up in a fight, you’re already geared up to expect hardship and trouble.

Looking for ways to reduce the impact of threat include.

Maintain Your Energy Levels.

Change fatigue is real in that it does make us feel tired. This is why taking care of your renewable energy sources is so important. Getting enough sleep means you are more attentive, creative and optimistic. Being sufficiently physically active boosts mental performance, enhances resilience and reduces stress. Choosing brain healthy foods nourishes your mind and will have a significant positive impact on your mood, memory and cognition.

Choose to Reframe.

Under stress everything starts to look bigger and uglier, so we magnify the size of a problem. Seeking to simplify what looks big and complex allows you reframe how you approach the change project and provide greater CLARITY in how you will tackle it.

For example have you ever marvelled at the spectacle of a murmuration of starlings and wondered how on earth they do it? Thousands of birds take to the skies in a remarkable fluidity of movement that appears incomprehensibly complex. How do they not collide with each other? Scientists have discovered it’s because every individual starling coordinates its movements with its seven closest neighbours.

When you can see how things have been put together, it’s far easier to find the motivation to get on with the work required.

Regulate emotion

Having access to the full spectrum of emotions means we can pick and choose what is most helpful. Regulation can help in lowering the intensity of any given emotion, (either positive or negative) and reduce the risk of an outbreak of emotional contagion. Strong emotions experienced by others will affect us, resulting in the potential loss of access to the rational, logical, reasoning part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex.

When not confronted by threat, it’s far easier to then start seeking the reward potential change can bring.

Reducing threat comes from:

Keeping energy reserves topped up

Changing your perspective with a reframe

Reducing stress and managing emotion

In the second part of this blog, we’ll examine how reward motivates us to explore and experiment with change, creating the opportunity for greater change success.

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