In the introduction we saw how various innate limitations influence our decisions and how different kinds of approaches during improvement initiatives can lead to different kinds of results. In this blog post we will cover one of the proposed paths in more detail: the mental change.
A convincing model
The mental aspect – the convictions and assumptions of employees – is all too often ignored in change management. Trying to convince employees is deemed a futile exercise, based on the argument that people hate change and won’t agree no matter what – so why bother trying?
In fact, the opposite is true: people are quite happy to embrace change, provided the new reality offers them significant benefits compared with the old one. If employees can be convinced of the validity of a change, they will be much quicker to adopt it than in the case of purely physical modifications, as Humberto Baptista explains in his presentation.1 They will develop new behaviors in the old environment.
It is important, however, that the change introduced is superior to the situation it supersedes. Existing positive effects should be preserved while undesired effects are replaced by better, desired ones.
What to change to? Five criteria
In order to help create a better reality, Baptista offers five criteria each change has to fulfil:
- Simplicity – based on the Newtonian principle that each system is simple at its base. Complexity should be avoided.
- Harmony is also derived from Newton. There are no contradictions within natural principles, nature is harmonious within itself. This principle is also valid in organizations.
- Respect – we assume that other people bring goodwill to the table. and we offer them the same. People are inherently good (and therefore wish to find a solution that is satisfying to everyone).
- Variability – it is impossible to control everything in detail. Variability is an inevitable fact of life; all we can do is learn to live with it.
- Change – reality is in constant flux, this too is unavoidable. This means we can never assume that we “know” a given situation.
A solution fulfilling these five criteria is a good and therefore convincing solution. Of course this doesn’t mean everyone in the organization will immediately agree without resistance.
A step by step process of conviction
This rethinking process generally happens on an individual basis: only rarely will there be cases where all employees can be persuaded in one fell swoop to throw their old convictions overboard. People will have concerns based on their individual working environment. If your new paradigms truly are better than the old ones (if they meet the five criteria), you don’t have to worry that they are completely rejected out of hand. All the same, every employee will want to have their concerns heard – this is understandable and should be respected, as it will foster acceptance. You cannot force the rethinking process from up top.
This is one of the reasons why mental changes will require quite a lot of effort. Analyzing the initial situation and developing new processes is a long and detailed process. Effectively communicating the change to all involved also relies on everyone’s time and attention. This often constitutes a considerable initial barrier in high pressure environments such as project-based workplaces: your engineers would much rather get on with their already-delayed project than discuss process improvements. It is a worthwhile time investment, however: a change initiative has little chance of success if those involved do not understand its benefits and will therefore try to hold on to their old ways.
Knowing and doing are separate things
Two further aspects deserve consideration. For one, cause-and-effect relationships may be logical, but this doesn’t mean they are necessarily rational. Emotions will play a role in any rethinking process, as most people will be emotionally involved in their work. This shouldn’t be too much of a deterrent, though: emotion-based behaviors may be harder to understand than rational ones, but they too follow cause-and-effect relationships, so can fundamentally be analyzed the same way.
There is a further obstacle to consider: even if we have been successfully convinced to change our behaviors, this is not always so easy to put into practice. As we know from our daily lives, old reflexes and habits very hard to break. The same applies in our professional lives. This is where an additional change in the physical environment can provide the necessary reminders or feedback to fix the new behaviors in the mind.
The last part of this series will discuss measures and metrics as well as the previously mentioned physical changes, and provides a summary of how these three avenues together can lead to a better and stronger change initiative.
1 Humberto R. Baptista, The Avenues of Change: Why people Change and How to Manage the Process, http://Tocio.net/TheAvenueofChange.pdf