The People-Side of Change

In the last one year, we have encountered many unexpected changes that were hastened and had taken place whether it is in the work that we do, our personal lives, and/ or our daily livings. These changes may have been easier for some to transit into, but more challenging for others.

In the expedited need for business to transit into digitalization, work processes automation, or incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into various aspects of work, small-medium organizations have found it tougher to manage these changes with limited knowledge and resources.

Some of the questions raised, especially by people who may be impacted by these changes are:

  • Will this work? – “The previous system was more of a hindrance rather than a help.”
  • Can I cope? – “I am not sure if I will know how to use it.”
  • Will I still have a job?
  • Why is it taking so long?

While partnering with a number of these organizations, we found It most important to first and foremost acknowledge and address people’s concerns. In so doing, we can assure and better support them to adopt and optimize these tools with greater confidence, complimenting their tacit knowledge and experience in their work.

How Then to Better Manage the People-Side of Change?

 Understanding how our brain works can be helpful.  Research has shown that our brain is developed for survival, and every 5 seconds it scans our environment and decides if something is a threat or a reward. 

Threat vs. Reward Responses

Our capacity to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others is generally reduced by a threat response and increased under a reward response.  Interestingly, our brain also treats social threat, and reward with the same intensity as physical threat and reward. 

In a changing context, a threat, for example, could be when we are criticized or shamed publicly with responses like: “why don’t you get it?”, or when there is insufficient or no information disseminated. A reward, on the other hand, would be receiving an acknowledgment or affirmation, for example, “I can see you’ve put in a lot of effort” or “great job on the report!” Or when we hear our leaders explain what may change, the reason for the change, and/ or how to be prepared for the change.

The approach of “my way” or “the highway” is often more a threat than letting people decide for themselves.  Threat responses would also be to exclude people from meetings or emails versus asking people for their views, which would likely elicit a reward response.  What will help is also when leaders are open and transparent in their dealings with people, or give other perspectives of a situation.

In general, when people feel psychologically safe, they will be more at ease to welcome change and be willing to try and adapt to the new change. The more information they are given about the change, the more ready they are to embrace the change as opportunities for learning and growth.

Prioritize People’s Needs

 When considering and implementing change, we often take time and effort to ensure the appropriate hardware and software are in place to meet the set objectives and requirements. Likewise, organizations should not neglect time and effort to prioritize people’s needs so as to better prepare them to be ready for the change.



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