Maria Gauffin: Take people’s needs into account during the change

 “Wherever you live, whatever your company does, the problems are all exactly the same: people. Process can’t fix that.” This has been said by author, Lean Change Management expert and international speaker Jason Little. I agree that whether your change projects will be successfully and sustainably implemented or not, it usually comes down to people. Many times, during change journeys we might indeed face challenging situations, or problems, related to people and their behaviour – how can we convince them to adopt and sustain new ways of thinking and working? However, I prefer to think that people are also the solution. One of the major drivers for people being engaged in the change and feeling committed to it, lies in involving the people, whose work will be affected by the change. Both in designing and easing the change journey.

At CCEA we work with helping organizations lead and implement changes successfully in a people-driven way, i.e., focusing on the needs of the people going through changes. Trying to make people part of the solution instead of part of the problem is what makes our work so interesting. Working with people and how they behave in organizations, means touching upon a diversity of scientific fields such as, biology and brain research, psychology, sociology, and economics.  

Getting people involved in change projects, is in fact a brilliant example of a method having its roots in other fields of science than business and management. And the consequences of using this method either poorly or well are significant: if you don’t involve people in change, you are likely to face more problems; usually recognized as change resistance. If you do involve employees in the change, you have every chance of seeing people be more committed to the change and able to start adopting new ways of thinking and working faster. The faster we can get people from being aware of the change to understanding its implications in practice and to adopting new ways of thinking or working, the faster we can get to the level of performance we need to make our business succeed. Succeed not to the detriment of people but succeed thanks to having taken people’s needs into account.

Let’s take a brief look at biology and psychology and how it’s linked to the fact that employees commit to changes better when their voices are being heard and when they can participate in designing the change and the implementation thereof: When someone just tells you that you need to change your ways of working, it can feel very threatening to your basic psychological and sociological needs, and this can lead to feelings such as anxiety or frustration and finally result in you resisting the change. Creating means that give you a sense of control (autonomy in the model below), on the other hand, does the opposite: letting you have a say regarding the changes that will affect you and your daily work, eases the feeling of threat and makes you more likely to collaborate and stay more open-minded towards the changes.

Focus on satisfying people’s need of autonomy by involving them in designing the change and/or in designing the implementation of the change. Original Source and more information on the SCARF model: David Rock (2008): SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others.

According to Ph.D. professor emerita of management and author of “Habits of a Happy Brain”, Loretta Graziano Breuning, human beings are not born with any other specific skill of survival, except for our ability to express pain (first by crying) and once heard, getting help from our own pack. This is in my opinion another aspect of why involvement in change is so important.

Loretta Graziano Breuning says that on the most primitive level it means that if you are not being heard, you feel helpless and endangered as in “I will die if I am not heard”.  With time, humans have learned to react to this kind of stress and an adult today might not consciously be fully aware of this innate, vitally important urge to be heard, but might still recognize the need to be seen and heard in matters that are important to oneself.

The more we know about our primal feelings and our innate vulnerability, the less we waste time on finding things to blame these feelings of anxiety, frustration, fear or urge to resist on.  We can simply accept that we are born with a need to be seen and heard. And this need should be addressed, especially when we ask people to start changing their behaviour.

In an organizational context, the need to feel a sense of control and the need to feel heard, would demand (top) management to arrange various ways of involving people in change projects that will affect their daily work; simply telling people about the changes does not do the trick for getting their strong commitment. And by hearing them out, you not only satisfy their need to be heard – you get valuable insight from those knowing the most about your processes and systems.