The Counterintuitive Wisdom You Need to Get People to Embrace Change

Common wisdom in management science and practice has it that to build support for a change project, visionary leadership is needed to outline what is wrong with the current situation. By explaining how the envisioned change will result in a better and more appealing future, leaders can overcome resistance to change. But research, recently published in the Academy of Management Journal, leads us to add a very important caveat to this.

A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their organizations. People fear that after the change, the organization will no longer be the organization they value and identify with — and the higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the organizational identity they hold dear. Change leadership that emphasizes what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current state of affairs typically fuels these fears because it signals that changes will be fundamental and far-reaching.

Counterintuitively, then, effective change leadership has to emphasize continuity — how what is central to “who we are” as an organization will be preserved, despite the uncertainty and changes on the horizon.

This is a straightforward and actionable notion that we put to the test in two studies. The first study was a survey of 209 employees and their supervisors from a number of organizations that announced organizational change plans (including relocations and business expansions, reorganizations, structural or technical changes, product changes, changes in leadership, and mergers). The focus was on how effective the leadership was in stimulating employee support for the change, measured through supervisor ratings of employee behavior. As predicted, results showed that leadership was more effective in building support for change the more that leaders also communicated a vision of continuity, because a vision of continuity instilled a sense of continuity of organizational identity in employees. These effects were larger when employees experienced more uncertainty at work (as measured by employee self-ratings).

In the second study, we tested the same idea using a laboratory experiment so that we could draw conclusions about causality. 208 business school students participated in the study, and the context was potential changes in the school’s curriculum. They received one of two messages allegedly from the dean of the business school. One conveyed a vision of change for the curriculum, and the other conveyed the same vision of change but also conveyed a vision of continuity of identity. Independent of which message they were exposed to, students received one of two versions of background information that suggested either low uncertainty or high uncertainty about change outcomes. We then assessed their sense of continuity of identity and their support for the change as expressed in actual behavior: help in drafting a letter to persuade other students to support the change. The results of this second study were similar to those of the first: Support for change was higher when the vision of change was accompanied by a vision of continuity, because in this case people’s sense of continuity of identity was higher. Again, the effects were stronger when uncertainty about the change was higher.

The implications of this research are straightforward. In overcoming resistance to change and building support for change, leaders need to communicate an appealing vision of change in combination with a vision of continuity. Unless they are able to ensure people that what defines the organization’s identity — “what makes us who we are” — will be preserved despite the changes, leaders may have to brace themselves for a wave of resistance.

Source: Harvard Business Review – by Merlijn Venus, Daan Stam, and Daan van Knippenberg

5 Ways to Help Your Employees Manage Re-entry Anxiety

As many states are set to reopen, employers are developing new procedures to keep their teams and customers safe. While this includes a lot of logistical planning, the physical well-being of employees is not the only thing to consider. Employees will have different emotional and psychological responses to these changes. Regrettably, mental and emotional health is discussed less frequently.

Anxiety is a natural reaction to an uncertain future. Employees not only worry about their physical safety but their job security as well. If employers don’t help manage this anxiety in their employees, it will affect engagement and productivity.

Here are five things that employers can use as a framework to build re-entry plans and assess progress in their employees:

  1. Make employee’s well-being your top priority. Employees want reassurance that their companies will put people first. Companies are offering more support to frontline workers and more paid sick days. Addressing employee concerns and remaining committed to their health and safety, especially during difficult times, goes a long way.
  2. Be transparent. Employees want regular, timely updates with transparent information from their employers. Open two-way information is critical for employers to deal with the economic impact of the current pandemic. Organizations that are involved with their team and engage in ongoing dialogue will be better prepared for these difficult conversations.
  3. Take action to implement public health measures. According to the CDC recommendations, employers should: extensively clean and sanitize work areas, encourage sick employees to stay home and implement flexible sick-leave policies, promote personal hygiene, provide protective equipment, and screen employees before entering the workplace. Employees need to know what measures will be implemented and how they will be enforced. They need to be reassured that steps are being taken and measures will be updated as situations evolve.
  4. Train leaders and managers to support employees. Leaders and managers will shoulder much of the responsibility when returning to the workplace. Some companies are holding ‘re-entry training” to discuss topics such as dealing with ambiguity, building personal resilience, developing emotional intelligence, and leading hybrid teams. Managers will need to be familiar with signs of emotional distress and regularly check in with their staff.
  5. Offer flexibility. The large-scale work-from-home environment has demonstrated that work can be flexible and change with the environment. As workplaces reopen, leaders should expect pressure to maintain flexibility, particularly from employees with children and sick family members.

In efforts to keep employees physically safe, employers also need to consider the impact of the current pandemic on psychological health. Growing anxiety with re-entry will impact health and work performance. Taking interest and addressing this anxiety will help companies cope with this transition and perform better in the long run.

I would enjoy hearing what you are doing to help alleviate “re-entry” anxiety – email me at robyn@ahaleadership.com

Repurposed from  Harvard Business Review

5 Strategies for Adapting to Change

We have been forced to change the way we live and work. Most of us are working remotely and spending more time together than we ever imagined with those who share our home. We cannot avoid this change (crisis) in our lives. Our government has mandated “social-distancing” and implemented numerous Executive Orders to shelter in place. 

While not everyone has been impacted by a tragic loss of life to COVID-19, everyone is experiencing some level of loss right now. 

Perhaps it is the loss of income or your job. Perhaps your child may be missing out on the final days of their senior year in high school or college. You may be feeling the loss of quality time with important people in your life or missing anticipated events like a wedding or graduation. Big or small, these losses can feel overwhelming. 

How are you adapting to the changes (losses) in your life?

We cannot avoid unexpected events or crises, but we can use these moments to challenge ourselves to grow.  Stepping outside of your comfort zone is where the “magic” happens…where you stretch yourself and achieve something you never thought possible!  

Here are 5 ways to help you adapt:

1. Change Your Mindset – The Choice is Yours! 

We cannot control the events of change in our life, but we can control how we react to the impact that these events have on our lives. The more you use your power of choice and the more you focus your mindset on positively adapting to change, the more resilient you will be to dealing with the impact that change will bring to your life.

2. Find Your Purpose

Take time each day to plan for tomorrow. What three things will you accomplish? Define your purpose. Purpose and meaning in life give you the courage to step out of your comfort zone – which is where you will find incredible opportunities for growth and improvement.

3. Let Go 

Let go of your missed opportunities and regret things you did or did not do. You cannot change the past.  All you can do is change the future.   A simple exercise to deal with regrets is to write each one on a piece of paper. 

Then, burn them. As they disappear into ashes, out loud say goodbye to them. It is a very simple but effective way of dealing with the pile of regrets that you have collected in your lives. Use those ashes as fertilizer for a new plant or flower and watch how your past lessons can grow into something beautiful.

4. Face Your Fears

Change is scary and it is all about stepping out of your comfort zone into the unknown. Train your mind to do the things that scare you by getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Make a list of scary things that you would like to do but have been too afraid to try them. Put a plan in place and then go do them! (Refer to #2)

5. Focus on Balance and Health

When you live a balanced and healthy life, you improve your resilience to the disruptions in your life. Find positive ways to deal with the stress you face each day. The key is that you commit to activities that enable you to be resilient, optimistic, physically and mentally fit to successful work through the impact that change can bring to your life.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Benard Shaw

Sourced from an article: Adapting to Change: Why It Matters and How to Do It by Kathryn Sandford)