A high number of business transformations fail for two reasons – people fear change and change is hard. When businesses transform it creates a melting pot of uncertainty and angst - they are taking a leap into the unknown.
Leaders should strive to create conditions of safety and trust within their teams and equip them with the psychological resources needed to cope with this uncertainty in a healthy and adaptive way. Using behavioural science to support and embed behaviour change will ensure that employees are fully supported and transformation is embraced by all involved.
Business transformations – why you need to change your mindset to change your fortunes
When businesses transform, invariably it is because leaders decide to radically change the organisation in response to external threats or opportunities. However, a high number of business transformations still fail, and while multiple reasons are often offered for these breakdowns, in essence, they fail for two primary reasons.
1. People fear change
The world is a scary place. It’s ‘better the devil you know’. When businesses transform, it creates a melting pot of uncertainty and angst among the people who are subject to the transformation. The journey from the known to the unknown is often accompanied by anxiety, and we may even question the entire purpose of the organisation.
Even those unhappy with the status quo cannot know if the grass will be greener post-change. They can’t be sure that they will still be needed or that their skills will be relevant. Whenever change happens, we take a leap into the unknown and the reality is, it is easier and safer to stay exactly where we are. Therefore, people resist change – even if this is unintentional.
2. Change is hard
Ever tried to lose weight? Exercise more? Spend less? How did you get on? We all know that, on an individual level, changing our behaviour is hard. So why do we think it will be any easier when we try to change at an organisational level?
Business transformation depends on huge numbers of individuals all changing their behaviour, and when we view transformation like this, it’s no wonder that transformations fail. Humans are creatures of habit and it is imperative that when we plan a business transformation, we plan for behaviour change as well.
What can be done about these fundamental barriers to business transformations?
Reduce ambiguity and create a feeling of safety
We can increase people’s ability to cope with uncertainty if they feel safe and there is transparency. To minimise the fear of change, we should communicate widely, frequently and involve as many individuals as possible. However, nomatter how comprehensive the consultation and communication strategy, we must accept that there will always be some level of uncertainty with any transformation.
Consequently, leaders should strive to create conditions of safety and trust within their teams – and the organisation as a whole – thereby equipping individuals with the psychological resources needed to cope with this uncertainty in a healthy and adaptive way.
One way in which leaders can foster trust within their teams is to adopt a non-judgemental attitude, because it is unrealistic to expect anyone to experience strong feelings of trust towards someone who you feel is judging you negatively.
We may instinctively pass judgement on the way colleagues, friends, family and others in our day-to-day life behave and come up with our own hypotheses on the reasons for that behaviour. But to have a truly non-judgemental attitude, we must avoid these involuntary judgements. So, while we can observe the behaviours of others, we shouldn’t draw conclusions without engaging with them and asking them the reasons. Any judgements will be presumptions based on our own frame of reference, influenced by our own life experiences, biases, personality, mood and emotion at the time. All of these are, of course, likely to be vastly different to those of the individual in question.
Abstaining from passing judgement is extremely difficult but the non-judgemental attitude of a leader has an important role to play in setting an example for the development of a trusting relationship, which can provide employees with valuable coping resources during times of uncertainty.
This article is one of a series exploring the challenges of business transformation.
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