Here’s some great insights for anyone involved in making change programmes or new ideas work. The key to successfully transforming organisations doesn’t lie in explaining what’s required. It actually lies in better understanding what people feel threatened by.
In this article in Reuters from some time back, David Rock takes the view that “People are not rational, they are social”. According to him, what we’re told is not the fundamental driver for acceptance. The key issue is that we are intuitively programmed to respond positively to social rewards, and are instinctually committed to minimising social threats.
Perceived threats to our senses of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness (a model Rock refers to as SCARF) will cause us to act defensively towards an event or an idea. Such threats cause people to close off the energy being passed through the prefrontal cortex, the home of conscious thinking in the bank. Change might make sense. It may even be responsible. But when information about change is conveyed to us in this manner, people react emotionally, productivity falls, and so does job satisfaction.
Which is pretty radical when you think about it, because so many change programmes actively lift collective awareness of all five threats almost without thinking. The roadshow rolls through. The CEO delivers the vision. And after it’s all over, and the management team have left the building, the talk and the spreadsheets, the explanations and fighting chat have, in real terms, achieved nothing. People are left concerned about where change will leave them; they are left feeling uncertain about what is going on, or why; they feel that matters taking place are beyond their control or influence; they often don’t relate to the reasons given for change; and they’re far from convinced most of the time that any of what’s proposed, especially if it involves job cuts or relocations, is fair.
Part of the reason is that the perceived threats are not addressed directly. Instead, those on the receiving end of change often find themselves combing through the handouts looking for the implications and speculating how what’s been announced may affect them.
That raises an important opportunity for those driving through the change. What could you be doing to make sure that the messages you’re circulating address those five key areas of threat proactively? How can you remove the doubt in order to raise receptivity?
That’s not a reason to spin yarns. They won’t help at all. But it puts the onus on those socialising the change programmes to reframe the arguments: to talk to the threats to others that change will bring before they talk to the reasons for change that they have arrived at themselves.
Start with the consequences for others – and work back to the ideas and the reasons that interest you.
Photo of “No” taken by sboneham, sourced from Flickr