Involve people in change to reduce the resistance

Involve people in the change to reduce the resistance

Forced change against a strict deadline is now the reality for most changes and what we see more and more is that the complexity of change is increasing and many major programmes consist of several in their own right substantial change tasks.

In one of my jobs I had to advise a major European unit of a global company which had particular change issues that made their changeover within a global project have high perceived business risk. This unit for example had already gone through several changes of ownership in their recent past and was again heavily impacted by the new global program. Our first step was to understand how the change impacted on the group in some detail – on the departments and individuals within the business. Change needed to be thought ‘through’ not ‘about’ and the changes in role and tasks were worked through at a detailed level of granularity – and how these would change as the global project proceeded.

The intervention strategy we considered was based around thinking through what the ‘changed’ organisation’ would look like when the dust had settled. The patterns of communication, the new roles and responsibilities and the impact on individual tasks were considered and what the steps would look like to bridge the gap from the current situation to the future. We worked backwards from the desired state and forwards from the current to meet in the middle! This defined inter alia the changes in role and task, and the necessary training and coaching for the individuals. The transition was trickier, and this was handled by facilitating the transition cutover planning at group level. This acted to involve the organisation in the changeover (it’s on ‘its’ way!) and confronted them with the change and engaged them in participating in the design of the whole process. Getting them to define in detail their future roles and tasks as well as the timings were key aspects of this intervention. Further, interviews and group meetings around the changeover period itself allowed ‘voice’ to be given and concerns and issues to be fully surfaced.

Key learning points

Do not interpret all resistance as opposition to change. Opposition can often be a sign of interest in the outcome and an expression of legitimate concern Capture the concerns and rationale. It may be that someone has identified a flaw in our reasoning and may have identified a route to possible failure, perhaps from the last time this occurred. To find out why it did not work last time may reveal some interesting lessons. However, be cautious about agreeing with an issue as this may be interpreted as a sign that the change can be negotiated – capture without judgement.

The assumption that all employees will go through the same cycle of resistance is false and too simplistic. Often there are winners in a change process. Identify these and build coalitions to build a success culture. Furthermore, some departments or groups of people are more successful or more robust with handling change than others. Building on these departments within an organisation help bring the whole organisation along

We all know the value of clear communication but forget to include the need for relevant clear communication. Exhortations of the value of the change at high level are useless unless made clearly relevant to the people affected by the change. Unless the communication is made explicitly relevant to the employees specific needs they will switch off and ignore you.


Just sleep on it and make better decisions

Just sleep on it and the solution will come

I suppose many have read about recent research led by a leading expert on the benefits of napping at the University of California that suggests that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep enhances creative problem-solving. At last now when I get caught sleeping on the job I have the perfect excuse. The study by Sara Mednick and Denise Cai graduate student in the UC San Diego Department of Psychology showed that REM directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state.

“We found that — for creative problems that you’ve already been working on — the passage of time is enough to find solutions,” said Mednick. “However, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity.”

The reason why taking a nap or leaving a problem for a while works has been researched for many years – and there is indeed evidence that leaving a problem then returning to it later does lead to the solution or more creative ideas emerging. As far as the REM sleep part is concerned it is likely to be a correlational finding and not related to the cause and effect of what they observed.

I like this idea but I think a clearer reason for this effect from information processing theory perspective is the way the brain divides up a problem during solution generation. In the initial representation of the problem the issues are encoded in working memory and a solution strategy worked out usually drawing on longer term constructs in memory from the last time the problem was faced (say). This initial solution strategy in working memory is what we typically use to first tackle the problem – and using this strategy more detail is fleshed out and the problem becomes clearer and more closely defined. This more detailed nature of the problem becomes stored in Long Term Memory.

If we leave a problem for a while, sleep on it say, the initial working memory solution gets forgotten – working memory being more volatile – whilst the more detailed knowledge of the problem gets retained in Long Term Memory. When we return to the problem we remember all the enhanced details of the problem but have to re-construct and make up a new approach to solving ‘it’. As we have more detailed understanding of the problem to be solved a better approach emerges – almost magically. So it is likely that those who take a break from a problem and return to it later are able to solve ‘it’ more effectively due to a process of selective ‘forgetting’ of the initial attempt at a solution.

Thus this is where a strategy of self-regulating your approach to tackling a problem can win dividends. What you have to do is rather than going on with a problem until the bitter end is say to yourself – ‘hold on I am going to do something else for a while and do this tomorrow’. What this implies that in some circumstances to procrastinate and delay is actually the best strategy to solve a difficult problem and going on when you are banging your head against a wall is a fruitless exercise.



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Bees show the way to making good decisions

I read with interest an article in the Sunday paper this week on the assertion that Bees ‘Decision Making Strategy’ (sic) could help the business world to come to more informed decisions.

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Apparently swarms send out ‘scouts’ to assess the quality of a potential site for a hive. The insects then report back to the old hive and do a ‘dance’ to describe the benefits of the site. The study concluded that the swarm then comes to a group decision on the best site by revisiting sites recommended by others until a consensus emerges and all the bees are performing the same ‘dance’. Actually of course there is no need for any kind of rationalisation process – bees returning from many potential sites will do a dance (‘large wiggle’ for lots of food, ‘direction of dance’ to show where it is and ‘length of path of dance’ to show distance from here) and bees communicate by ‘imprinting’ the movement of the dance in the hive until they get it then off they fly to have a look. Those sites that indeed have a good supply will result in more returning bees doing a repeat performance of the original dance whilst bees that return dissatisfied give a less that enthusiastic display. As a result of this reinforcement process bees will over time appear more frequently at the good sites which may look like a rational process has occurred but is in fact a conditioning process.

The study published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society measured the success of different decision-making processes and showed that if the bees relied on the ‘cosmic accident’ as they put it of all the bees eventually stumbling on the same site, it would leave the swarm homeless and vulnerable. On the other hand if the bees blindly followed the recommendations of other bees without checking the sites out for themselves there is no guarantee that it will be the best decision either.

The study concluded that sending out scouting groups resulted in the best decision. From this natural system they then made the leap of faith to suggest if Humans adopted this process then better investment decisions (for example) in the stock market could be made, groupthink avoided and investors will avoid getting stung! There is some truth in this as investment decisions are often made on the basis that if one stockbroker buys stock in a particular company then it must be good – thus a stampede is generated and everyone buys in and a bubble is created that eventually bursts. The lesson being that if decisions are made by considering options, whether there is real worth in a company (dividends etc.) before a decision made then this is a better decision making strategy.

In decision making strategies in the real world this is what is recommended, proactively acting on the world (scouting), deciding effectively by weighing and thinking about options then moving to action is a known and sound strategy. The problem is it takes thinking power to effect such an approach and there are few who actually do this in practice. In the normal run of events, when the economy is growing or things in a company are going well, then we can get away with sloppy decision making. What recent events have shown is that many so-called experts did not engage themselves in a deep way with their decision making, had little idea of what they are deciding and did not engage in down side risk analysis. Unfortunately all things that take significant cognitive resource and effort of will to do well – and in today’s quick and dirt world there is little reward for doing it right especially when sloppy thinking and management practice gets bailed out by the taxpayer as we are now witnessing across the world.