Why do some people take organisational change personally?

When change happens in the workplace, the mindset of the workforce is crucial to its success. A brilliant change plan that lacks the engagement and support of your people will not be as effective as it could be.

This may seem obvious, and yet it’s not uncommon to find elaborate, well-thought-through change plans missing that vital ‘people’ element.

Dealing with any kind of change can bring out an emotional response in people – and when we get emotional, things get personal. So it’s crucial for change leaders to understand why some people take organisational change personally, and how to help them navigate that journey.

An emotional response

Usually, when organisational change is announced, people respond emotionally. They will often experience an initial sense of shock and denial, followed by uncertainty and feeling threatened. They may only see the bad things and what’s being taken away from them.

These feelings can grow into resistance if left unaddressed and if they don’t feel they have a choice in the change process. Uncertainty about what’s going on can very easily turn into an introspective feeling of unfairness, helplessness, despondency and loss of control. It can lead to people being negative, disengaged and unmotivated and, in the worst case, actively resisting change and sabotaging the process. Often, this is their way of taking some control back for themselves.

As a manager, it’s vital to let your people know they have choices in the change journey, and to let each individual know what their choices are. Thinking of ‘ICE’ (Information, Choice, Engagement) will help you lead your people through the pathway of change, and deal with any frosty relationships along the way.

Information

Giving people information will help to ease their uncertainty. It should be provided consistently and repetitively because people who are feeling emotional won’t be able to immediately process information. It’s also important to consider who provides the information: is it best coming from you as a manager, or from someone else, perhaps one of their colleagues who is already engaged with the process?

Choice

Many managers take choice away from their people with good intentions; they think it’s easier all round if they work things out for everyone. But if people feel they have no choice in what is happening to them, they will seek control over the situation in ways that may be disruptive or negative.

It helps to move as much choice back to your people, to involve them in the plan as much as you can. Give them control over details that affect them. It may be that something you see as a small or insignificant decision is actually important to a particular individual.

A good starting point is to give people a choice about whether they even want to be involved in the first place and, if so, to what degree.

Engagement

There are thousands of things, from small details to larger activities, that need to happen for organisational change to take place, so engage your people at a level that’s relevant and meaningful to them.

Also bear in mind that people don’t engage in groups; they go through their own private journey. However, that doesn’t mean managers need to have a personal discussion with every individual in their team. You can encourage engagement to happen and cascade through your people, either top-to-bottom, or peer-to-peer.

Article by Rob Smith

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