Taking on negativity bias in change management

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By: Adrian Amore, Director of Services, Halcyon

 

What causes us to resist change? Besides the fact that change means something new; something that we may have to learn; something that may interfere with our day to day; something we have to build it in to our schedule. We can’t deny that as individuals we would think all these things and more. Even if deep down we are fully aware that a change is required for the greater good, why do we still resist? Why do we continue to focus on the negatives and lose sight of the positives?

Well it all comes back to our negativity bias, which has been so entrenched within us for so long that it occurs unconsciously every time we run into anything outside of our comfort zone, in any area of our life. And of course, change comes under this banner.

 

Organisational change

 

When it comes to organisational change, even if there is a conscious decision to invest in a process being followed that aims to mitigate typical change resistance, many employees still focus on the negatives. This is not a determined action by employees to undermine change, but rather an unconscious reflex, that is a much stronger reflex for some individuals compared to others.

 

Through Halcyon and working with customers closely during periods of change over the last 36 months, I have observed time and again that even if a change management process is followed end to end, we still continue to be challenged by people’s resistance to change. However, at Halcyon we see this as an opportunity to learn and grow as change managers. 

 

One thing I have learned during this change journey is that with any sizeable change people often fear losing what they already deem as good within an organisation. And this becomes the negative that they focus on whenever they think of the change.

 

This generally relates to the organisation’s culture - the way we interact with colleagues, peers and customers. We want to work for an organisation that stands for something. We are often protective of our job role, work environment, the teams we work within and our wider organisation. So, if employees fear that the proposed change has the potential to compromise any of that, the change will be clouded by this fear and become overwhelmingly negative.

 

I can definitely relate to this sentiment and this empathy has taught me that a vital component of a change management program is to consider what might be most precious to employees. I have learnt that even if a change is done with all the right intentions, it is imperative that employees receive re-assurance that the change is not a threat to what they deem is good within the organisation today. 

 

My advice

 

My advice is that next time when you are engaging executives and employees in a change management program, ask them what is good about the organisation’s culture and what they don’t want impacted? What is dear to their heart?  What makes them want to come to work and stay there?  Once you know this, your job might be as simple as reassuring them that the underbelly of the organisational culture will not be compromised or affected by the change. One reassuring sentence might be all it takes to flip an employee’s negativity bias to become a positive.

To embracing change,

Age.