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The Change Game: A Leaders Guide to Taming the Wild Beast of Organisational Transformation

I had just been hired as a management consultant for a company that was going through some serious changes. Good company. Good people. But a tricky project. They were looking to revamp their entire organisational structure, and they needed someone to help them navigate the choppy waters of change. And like how most change projects start, I was working my way through the abyss of ‘wow, that’s a lot’ and hoping to soon arrive at ‘Ok, I think I’ve got this now.’

At this stage I’d already been working in change for over a decade, so the concepts weren’t anything new. But anybody who’s seriously worked in change knows that every project is it’s own beast that needs taming. For me, that meant spending my Friday night holed up in my office, knee-deep in research on what change management practices were going to work best for this particular project. For most people, this would be frustrating. But I was in my happy place.

Now, change is a tricky beast. It can be exciting and invigorating, or it can be terrifying and overwhelming. And let’s be real, most people fall into the latter category. Change resistance and change fatigue are real, and they can be major obstacles to successful transformation.

But fear not, my friends. I’ve done my research, I’ve spent my time out in the field, I’ve learned from the best and I’m here to tell you that there is a way to tame the wild beast of organisational transformation. And after nearly 20 years in the industry the best advice I can give is to integrate cognitive, affective, and motivational analysis into your change management approach.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What the heck do those big words even mean? Allow me to break it down for you.

Let’s start with cognitive analysis. Our brains are wired to constantly seek out new information and interpret it in a way that makes sense to us. This is called cognitive processing, and it’s a major factor in how we respond to change.

When faced with a major shift in our work environment, our brains go into overdrive. We’re trying to process all the new information, figure out how it fits into our existing knowledge base, and come up with a plan of action which is called either accommodating or assimilating information. We use our working memory to hold onto the new information while we try to integrate it with our existing knowledge and experience. If the change is too overwhelming or doesn’t make sense, our brains may simply reject it. This can be exhausting, and it can lead to resistance and fatigue.

But here’s the thing – our brains are also incredibly adaptable. We have what’s called neuroplasticity, which means our brains can reorganise themselves in response to new experiences. So, while cognitive processing can be a major hurdle to successful transformation, it can also be a tool for change.

Now, let’s talk about affective analysis because it’s not just about cognitive processing. Emotions play a big role too and emotions are a tricky thing. They can be our greatest motivator or our biggest obstacle. When change happens, we often experience a rollercoaster of emotions – fear, excitement, anger, sadness, you name it. When we experience change, our brains release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that make us feel anxious, stressed, and even fearful. These emotions can make it hard for us to think clearly and make rational decisions.

But here’s the thing – our emotions are not just a random mishmash of feelings. They’re actually closely tied to our cognitive processing. In fact, research has shown that our emotions can actually help us process information more effectively.

So, when it comes to change management, it’s important to acknowledge and address our emotions. We need to create a safe space for employees to express their feelings, and we need to help them process those feelings in a way that supports successful transformation. By acknowledging and addressing our employees’ emotions, we can help them feel heard and supported. This can lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety, which can help them think more clearly and make better decisions.

Finally, let’s talk about motivational analysis, because motivation is also a key factor in successful change management. What motivates us to change? What motivates us to resist change? Motivational analysis can help us understand what drives our employees which is key to creating a change management strategy that works.

You see, our brains are wired to seek out rewards and avoid punishment. When we’re motivated, we’re more likely to take risks and try new things. When we’re not motivated, we’re more likely to resist change and stick with what we know. So you need to ask of your people, do they value recognition and praise? Are they more motivated by financial incentives? Do they want to feel like they’re making a difference in the world?

And here’s where neuroscience really comes into play. Our brains are wired to seek out rewards and avoid punishments. This is called the reward-punishment system, and it’s a major factor in our motivation.

When we perceive change as a threat, our brains go into “punishment” mode. We become resistant to the change because we see it as a potential danger. But when we perceive change as an opportunity for reward, our brains shift into “reward” mode. We become motivated to embrace the change because we see it as a potential benefit.

So, as leaders, it’s our job to help our employees see the potential rewards of change. We need to create a vision for the future that’s compelling and inspiring, and we need to show employees how they fit into that vision.

So, how do we integrate these three types of analysis into our change management approach? It starts with empathy. 

As leaders, we need to put ourselves in our employees’ shoes. We need to understand the factors that are driving their response to change. We need to listen to their concerns, acknowledge their emotions, and help them find the motivation to embrace the change. In other words, you need to give them individual attention and create a personalised approach.

It’s not always easy. In fact, it can be downright frustrating at times. But if we want to create a successful transformation, we need to be willing to put in the work.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can change. It all comes down to the way our brains are wired, and our brains are wired for survival. We’re wired to resist change because our brains see it as a threat. But we’re also wired to adapt and evolve.  Our amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our fight-or-flight response, perceives change as a threat to our survival. It sends signals to our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, planning, and problem-solving, to assess the situation and determine if the change is a threat or an opportunity. It’s a delicate balance, and as leaders, we need to help our employees find that balance. 

But it’s not just about understanding the neuroscience behind change management. It’s about putting that knowledge into action. As leaders, we need to be empathetic, patient, and willing to put in the work to help our employees navigate change.

So, my friends, if you find yourself in the midst of a major organizational transformation, remember this: change is a wild beast, but it’s not unbeatable. By integrating cognitive, affective, and motivational analysis into your change management approach, you can tame the beast and come out on the other side stronger and more resilient than ever before.

And if all else fails, just remember – there’s always whisky.

Stay weird, stay wild, stay free.

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