May 12, 2017

EMBODI ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE

REALIZE THE CHANGE STRATEGIES THAT MATTER

When it comes to transformative change, we need to face the fact that we stink at it.

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  • Studies show that less than 20% of people that have heart bypass surgery actually make major modifications to their life style and diet. (Inspire, 2010)
  • Studies show that only 30% percent of organizations actually succeed when undergoing significant, transformative change. And some suggest that failure rate is increasing with every passing year. (Maurer, 2010)
  • Studies even show that less than 30% of people that win the lottery are able to adapt to that kind of positive change and not spend all the money. (Forbes, 2016)

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To address these depressing facts, scholars, researchers, authors, and consultants are all working hard to better understand how change happens, while bringing their unique lens, research and experience on change to the table. Yet there is slow progress. Why?

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There are a number of compounding reasons. A few of these are:

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  • Lack of integrating these specialized research lenses (instead, we stay siloed in our change approaches),
  • Lack of recognizing that one company’s change medicine is another company’s poison.
  • Spoon feeding the answers to companies, rather than teaching them the skills to get there, themselves.

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A few ways this can manifest itself are:

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  • Having a rigid focus on creating change through the modification of behaviour. Behaviour modification can work for some. But for many, it tends to work temporarily because people are more than their behaviours.
  • Not seeing the bigger, interdependent change picture. You can not change one moving part without it effecting one or many other moving parts in the company.
  • Focusing to strongly on differentiating ourselves from the pack, but in a siloed, protective way, afraid to be swallowed up by the competition.

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There are some of us however, looking at the links between expert theories and how these differentiated theories weave together to build the interdisciplinary tapestry that is required to actually hold and contain big change.

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In fact, this is a very important change principle:

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To support and contain big change requires an interdisciplinary, integrative tapestry. It is often not about one, individualized solution but about resourcing a number of solutions and knowing how to weave them together to hold the ship together.

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Thus this paper offers an integrative, interdisciplinary lens on organizational change, where we weave together concepts and principles from neuroleadership, psychology, psycho-analytics, social science, complex system theory, neuro-behaviorism, business management and change management theories.

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In a nutshell, according to neuroscience, psycho-analytics, neuro-behaviourism, and complex systems theory, to unlock change (not force change) it needs to:

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  • Emerge from within the group or organization,
  • Have proper internal and external support structures and resources in place, to enable change to emerge and be integrated within the group or organization.

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This brings us to another important change principle:

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If we want to bring new life into the organization, change needs to emerge not be forced. But to bring this form of emergent change or otherwise known as creative change into an organization requires a number of strategies be put in place first.

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Here are six of those strategies:

 

  1. BUILD A COALITION THAT IS BEHIND THE CHANGE
    This is a coalition of influential stakeholders that are inspired by the change, and can be the voice of the change. In addition, it is important for the coalition to recognize that their own internal reflection is required during the process of change. It is self-deception to think we can provide lip service on change or outsource the change. That is akin to paying lip service to going to the gym or outsourcing the work of going to a gym and still expecting that we’ll get in shape.

 

  1. PENDULATE BETWEEN WHAT’S WORKING WELL AND WHAT’S NOT
    Through story telling, explore aspects of organizational life such as the company’s reason for being (beyond money) and how staff have aligned with it to support a positive result. Or explore what projects, teams, and change effects have been successful and the qualities of the team that supported that success. Too much focus throughout the company on what’s not working and how to fix it puts an unnecessary and excessive stress on the nervous system. It also causes the psyche to perceive, that no other world exists other than a world of problems. Over time, focusing on the struggles becomes the norm and the comfort zone for the psyche and nervous system of the individual and the culture of the company. Positive, healthy change becomes harder in this kind of environment.

 

  1. RECOGNIZE SOLUTIONS TO CHANGE PROBLEMS ARE FOUND WITHIN THE COMPANY.
    The key to realized change is fostering a culture that understands that solutions are found within. But it also means learning how to let these solutions bubble up to the surface of the organization, so they can to be acted on. This process is as much an art as it is a science. It takes developing a culture that actively listens to them selves and each other, reduces their siloed processes and withstands the creative tensions that emerge when diverse opinions are brought to the table. When done right, these skills cultivates a workplace that is engaged, committed, change resilient, stable, and able to take ownership over the change, so you do not have to force it.

 

  1. IDENTIFY CULTURAL NORMS AND BELIEFS THAT PREVENT CHANGE.
    As mentioned, solutions that help change be realized are within ourselves and our companies. This encourages self-responsibility, close listening and imagination. The challenge is however, limiting cultural norms and beliefs can often stifle this process, preventing change from being realized. These norms and beliefs may be related to what is called “hero-leadership”. Or it may be related to top-down governance, group dynamics, compliance, how problems are handled, financial agendas, gender, class, race, etc.. For example, there may be the cultural belief that management is the source of what’s wrong and therefore everyone else but them, are powerless to fix these issues. This belief will foster a power struggle between staff and management, suffocating solutions and reinforcing the status quo.
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    Other ways limiting norms impinge change is when the organizational culture creates an unconscious identity to the status quo, and struggles to know who they are outside of that. Seeing an organization, as an evolving, creating self is a foreign concept to many company leaders.

 

  1. SUSPEND JUDGMENT OF THOSE THAT ARE RESISTANT TO CHANGE.
    Psycho-analyst Donald Winnicott, change scholar Peter Senge, as well as neuroscientist Dan Siegel suggests that it can be a sign of health when rigid, change resistant thinking dominates more flexible, adaptive thinking. Resistance may suggest that one or more puzzle pieces are missing from the interconnected tapestry that supports their change. It may be a missing piece such as one described in this paper, or another puzzle piece not mentioned. Here is an analogy. If you have a weak left leg, the right leg will begin to take over and compensate for the weaker left leg. The body will resist letting go of its right leg dominance and rigidity, until the other interconnected parts, such as the left leg become stronger and can better support and hold the right leg up. In other words, it is the systems way of trying to maintain balance and order. This non-judgmental approach moves us away from “fight and fix the problem” mode to more of an objective and emergent understanding and interrelationship focus, which is the gateway to big group change.
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  2. RECOGNIZE THAT CHANGE IS AS MUCH PSYCHOLOGICAL AS IT IS PHYSIOLOGICAL
    Change has psychological, spiritual, cultural, and interpersonal components to it. But it also has a physiological component to it as well. The physiological component is often the biggest missing puzzle piece in the change tapestry. In addition, according to neuroscience, it is not a ‘nice to have’ puzzle piece but a required piece. Change, whether it is positive or negative is a stress on not just the psyche but also the body. If you win the lottery, it can be just as stressful on the nervous system as losing all your money. And we all know what stress feels like in the body. Stress manifests itself as tension in shoulders, shallow breathing, tight jaw, anxiety, fatigue, changes in heart rate, gut issues, fight, flight, freeze responses, etc.
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    If we are not able to regulate these physiological stress responses properly, it will impair our ability to actively listen, take risks, sit with conflicting opinions and change. In other words, it will impair the psyche from being able to relax, relate, respond to the change.  This is an example of what we discussed in strategy five. When a piece of the change tapestry is weak (our management of physiological stress), then other parts such as the psyche will remain rigid and stubborn in thought, and the system as a whole will struggle to relax and drop into the change. So what does this all mean? It means strengthening our skill for managing the physiological stress response that comes with change. My stress management program has been designed with this intent in mind.

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In summary, to change in ways that are more current with the times, to streamline and gain a competitive edge, requires we ask some hard questions about our high change failure rates. And it requires that we take risks, listen closely and venture into unfamiliar or marginalized domains and possible solutions, and question their merit. In fact, asking hard questions, listening closely and venturing into the uncomfortable and the taboo are secret weapons of leading edge companies, as it helps them adapt and change in ways that give them a competitive edge.

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Further more, while unlocking a change from within tends to be more anchored in the moral fabric of the organization and the company’s reason for being, it also comes with risk and challenge. The creative emergence process found in real change tends to have a chaotic quality to it.  This chaotic quality shows itself by challenging our prior learning and limiting beliefs. And it shows itself in our stress responses and the ways we cling to the status quo. The natural tendency is to want to stifle or control this change turbulence rather than contain it, thinking it is bad for business. It is not. But it does take education on how to better contain it rather than control it, which requires bigger picture thinking and exploring the interconnected change tapestry. We need to look at how cultural influences, interpersonal influences, neuro-physiological influences, psychological influences, as well as other influences not mentioned in this paper, all work together to contain, regulate and integrate the change process. Change wants to emerge in leadership, teams, and employees in healthy ways that bring new strategic insight, behaviours, solutions and positive forward momentum. Change is a byproduct of the self-organizing property of our biology. The key however is in how we unlock it.

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Lastly, this embodied approach to change is the only way for real change to occur. It aligns and works with how our brain is biologically engineered and how the mind naturally develops and evolves itself. When we try to change ourselves and others in ways that go against our biology and how the mind evolves inherently, then biology pushes back and we go nowhere, other than a bottomless money pit where we have a 70% change failure rate.

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Change is all that exists and the key is how to unlock it in ways that bring new life to the organization.

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Written By:

Lisa Markham Sherrill, M.A.
Senior Management Consultant
PROSCI Change Management, Business Management, Conflict Management certified
Interpersonal Neurobiology & Brain-Based Leadership Coaching certified
PhD (Student) Studying Human Behaviour In The Workplace
Helping You With The People Side Of Business