Leonardo Da Vinci "In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time."
In our previous article on automation we discussed the impact and a few of the benefits of digital revolution. This article focuses on the psychology of how to help lead people through change. We will examine why people can sometimes resist change even though it might be an improvement or inevitable and how to help them accept and embrace it. In this article we will look at the traditional models such as Fisher’s Transition Curve and Kotter’s 8 steps; in the next article we will visit a few more modern concepts such as the 4 laws of change, the McKinsey's model of behavioural change and the 6 sticky principles.
This is not the first time that we’ve seen resistance from the general population towards technological change. Historically, the word “sabotage” was believed to come from the practice of disgruntled workers causing work stoppages by throwing their wooden shoes (sabot or clogs) into the looms of 15th-century textile mills.
Why would the luddites want to “clog-up” the machinery? From a rational perspective it makes little sense; the machinery had the potential to improve conditions, opportunities for workers to up-skill and their introduction was inevitable. From an emotional perspective, the machines represented a threat to livelihood, expertise and tradition. The modern changes that automation, cyber and digital transformation bring have the potential to turn a modern workforce into “neo-luddites”.
How can we overcome resistance, and help our teams with big transitions? It is important to note that leadership is especially needed during periods of transition and change. Role-modelling, visibility, clear communication and empathy are vital to the success of any change project.
What do the traditional change models tell us?
The traditional models:
One of the original models for understanding organisational change was developed by Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist, known as a pioneer of social, organisational, and applied psychology.
For Lewin, the process of change entails creating the perception that a change is needed, then moving toward the new, desired level of behaviour and finally, solidifying that new behaviour as the norm. Using a block of ice as a metaphor, to change its shape we need to understand the new shape we want to create and what’s keeping the ice in its current state. The next step is to change it by melting it, and the final stage is to re-freeze it into its new shape. Here are some useful questions we need to think about during the three stages:
Kotter's 8-step change model:
This model inspired the work of John Kotter (1996) and his 8-Step Leading Change model:
The Transition Curve:
What about the psychological impact of unexpected or enforced change on the happiness and productivity of our teams? How can we help them through the process so that they feel more engaged and are more likely to embrace the change?
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) originally developed a 5-stage model to describe the emotional stages of grief. This inspired the work of John M. Fisher (1999, updated 2012) who developed the Personal Transition through change curve.
A simplified updated version of both models is below and breaks down the curve into four stages. It is important to note that time could denote seconds or minutes in the case of a minor change and up to years in the case of a major life change. Another important factor is that this transition is not necessarily linear, it is completely normal to oscillate between the stages.
How leaders can help and enable their staff during change:
What can we conclude from all of these models? It is important to plan and prepare for the psychological impact of change on our teams and staff. Listening, empathy and empowerment are vital parts of the success of the change process.
The other important takeaway is that these are frameworks not rules. Lewin’s unfreeze-refreeze and Kotter’s 8 steps regularly fail when managers use them as a step-by-step tick-box process to enforce change and do not take into account the psychology of their workforce.
In our next article we will go beyond the traditional models and look at the deeper psychology of motivating people through change and how to “build-in” change as opposed to just create “buy-in”.