The Psychology of change

In today’s economy, business leaders have to work overtime to create a culture that embraces change.  The ability to reinvent is an ongoing requirement to insure long term success in a competitive, rapidly changing market.   That may mean being more proactive than reactive to market conditions, or working more collaboratively across organizational boundaries, or making a major pivot to realign to customer demands.  In any case, change is inevitable.

There is a natural resistance or “attitude” that immediately occurs with the idea of change.   It is not surprising but it needs to be understood and managed.  Leveraging behavioral psychology along with organizational design increases the opportunity for success.  The most effective organizational change requires individuals changing their thinking, beliefs and behavior. 

All too often organizations couch their change initiatives in dense, academic verbiage that is unintelligible to the broad community. But efforts to simply the imperatives often leave them without content. A better approach to helping teams embrace change may be by creating a “story” that helps employees internalize the vision and understand the impact that their contributions have on the outcome.

An old but still great story comes from FedEx. In the early days the company was trying to differentiate their service by guaranteeing that any package could be delivered overnight. As the story goes, one of their drivers was out late at night in a snowstorm to check a drop box for packages. The lock was frozen solid and the driver was unable to gain access. Not to be deterred, he drove to a nearby auto garage and borrowed a torch with which he cut off the legs of the drop box. He loaded the drop box into his truck and headed to the airport. Upon arrival, the maintenance team drilled the box open, removed the packages, and successfully got them to their final destination.

The point of the story is that it reinforces the message that FedEx will positively do everything it can to get the package to the destination. No amount of corporate words could be more compelling than the vision created by the perseverance of the driver.

Organizations that convey a story to reinforce the vision must also have an organizational structure, operational process, performance measures, and financial rewards that are consistent with the behavior change they are trying to achieve.  That means that if customer satisfaction is a key outcome then performance metrics and rewards have to be central to the management scorecard.

Helping employees see their role in the vision allows them to understand how their efforts impact results.   Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of employees want to feel like they are part of the company’s success.  They feel ownership and pride when their company is successful and that helps drive good collaboration with colleagues and strong support for management.

Change is inevitable and can have extremely positive results.  To manage properly requires  strong communication around of the direction the company, why the change is required, and the roleeach employee plays along  the journey.

Stories help.