Organisational Change Without The Pain
In a meeting recently I was discussing the very large topic of organisational change.
A few days and much internal dialogue later, I came to the realisation that the approach needed for organisational change is no different from changing your own behaviour. Let me explain.
Understanding and Conviction — Ask Me To Do Something I Believe In!
Kind of an obvious statement really, but let’s break this down. Try making a change to something that you inherently don’t believe in. Let’s take the example of my love for meat and the need to give that up for the environment.
If the argument or evidence presented regarding meat consumption and the devastating effect it has on climate change (according to one report, an estimated 70 per cent of deforestation in the Amazon basin can be attributed to cattle ranching) is not strong enough, like me, you’ll struggle to give it up for sure.
Watching the GameChangers documentary was a strong enough argument for me. It was presented in a way that I could relate to and, it changed my opinion quite quickly and easily.
I’m into my second month of being vegetarian — a change that’s been painless so far because the arguments for it were so convincing. If the evidence put forth had been any less convincing, stopping me eat meat would have been a harder sell.
Now, I am not suggesting organisational change managers go hire James Cameron to produce a documentary for them, but I am highlighting the importance of the narrative for behavioural change. Tackling this first hurdle will make the rest of the race pretty easy for you to finish.
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state of stress that comes about when your beliefs, ideas or values directly contradict your actions. You can read more about A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957), Leon Festinger here.
In short, what is being asked of you needs to be in line with your values and it needs to make sense.
Role Modelling — Ask Me To Do Things That You Are Doing!
In most cases when growing up, you look at your mother or father for what’s right or wrong, an athlete if you’re training for a competition, a successful businessman if you’re starting your own company, your boss if you’re trying to grow at work or, like me, your wife if you want to be a better person, Amrita Sadarangani ;)
You tend to model your behaviour on these people and see them as role models.
With this in mind, for successful change in any organisation, people at all levels (CEO’s included) must ‘walk the talk’. For me, ‘real’ leaders or ‘change management flag bearers’ are those that lead by example and are willing to get their hands dirty whenever required. Giving instructions to your team whilst embracing the change yourself is a sure-fire recipe for success.
I’ve often commented to my friends in India on how the transport police in Mumbai regularly skip traffic signals, drive through no-drive zones and break road laws aften. It’s no wonder that driving in Mumbai is so chaotic. How do they expect others to follow the rule of law?
Reinforcement Mechanisms — Ask Me To Do Things Only If There’s Adequate Support!
I would never have guessed that I would be revisiting my psychology lectures on Skinner's rats and Pavlov’s dogs and their theories of conditioning and positive reinforcement. But here I am, talking about those rats and dogs.
In the 1920s and ’30s, Skinner found that he could motivate rats to complete boring tasks around a maze by providing incentives (food), and punishing them for making wrong turns (electric shocks). This reinforcement eventually led to the rats successfully completing the maze.
Companies (instead of using food, or electric shocks), need to reinforce positive behaviour by highlighting associations and consequences. Reinforcing behaviour with the right formal mechanisms and instructions in place will result in fewer questions on to what to do next.
A company’s structures, processes and systems (of which people are a part of) need to be in place. They must fully support the changes being implemented.
Confidence and Skill Building — Ask Me To Do Things That Are In My Comfort Zone!
Ahh, back to that lovely place called the comfort zone. Let’s get one thing straight, to some degree, nobody likes change.
One of the first things that cross your mind when asked to change is fear. Fear of getting things wrong. Fear of disappointing someone or yourself.
Training and development will equip you to handle the change — from a confidence and skills point of view. As we discussed above, let’s not forget you need to get buy-in for the development plan of these new skills. A valid and convincing argument or reason for acquiring new skills.
Your organisation may be in a situation where those skills will take time to implement or are out of reach with your current workforce. In those situations, refreshing the talent pool may be needed.
Whilst all these suggestions sound like common sense, it’s amazing how overlooked they are in the everyday functioning of organisations. Organisations can change without these factors too. Painfully.