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Help Your Team Overcome Change Resistance: The Dos and Don’ts of the Psychology of Change

If you are a business leader today, you know that employee resistance to change is one of the biggest challenges you face. Particularly in a pandemic and its aftermath!

But what if you could apply some psychology basics and tap into why your employees do and don’t want to change? What if you were able to use human insights to not only drive acceptance of change but ensure that it sticks?

No matter the type of business transformation you are driving – whether implementing new agile methodologies, changing ways of working, or getting the enterprise to adopt new digital tools – it requires an enormous amount of brainpower for every individual employee on your team to accept the change and then put it into action.  

That’s how our brains are set up to work – especially when something is unfamiliar to us. We need to take the time to assess the risks and figure out how to navigate the situation.

And when that’s compounded with stress and the numerous projects and tasks competing for our brain’s attention, there’s often not enough brainpower left to ensure that the change is met with acceptance.

At Daggerwing, we know some tried and true ways of applying psychology to get people to change.

First, what NOT to do…

Don’t overuse statistics:

  • Statistics and facts are used to try and influence the rational part of our brain, but resistance to change comes from the emotional part of our brain. The more personal an issue is to us, the less rational our brains become. That’s why facts might convince a CEO to change their organization’s strategy, but they won’t convince front-line employees to get on board.
  • People seek out facts that confirm their existing beliefs (this is known as confirmation bias). The other side to this bias means that people are extra resistant to facts that are in opposition to their current views.

So, don’t rely only on facts and figures when you’re making your case for change to employees, or when you’re communicating the change…because it simply won’t stick.

Don’t use scare tactics to get your employees on board with change

  • Humans are notoriously bad at considering the long-term consequences of their actions (which is one of the reasons why we so often ignore health advice). Scaring people into change with a threat about a dire future is a temporary measure that will stop working as soon as people get back into their day-to-day routines.
  • Inducing fear will also activate people’s stress response, and continued, heightened stress levels will lead to people burning out and no longer being able to work at their best, if at all.

Next time, when it comes to thinking about incentives for change, use the carrot more than the stick.

Now that we’ve covered what DOESN’T work, here is what DOES work for leaders when driving change:

Do lead by example

  • We are social animals. We can learn from others simply by looking at what they are doing. Copying what others are doing saves our brain from having to figure everything out for ourselves. Leaders are visible role models that give employees a blueprint for how to act, so it’s vital for leaders to practice what they preach.
  • Our copycat nature works most effectively when we look to the people we identify with the most – those with the same aims as us. This is where change champions and social influencers play a critical role in communicating and supporting the change, to make it more meaningful for employees.

Do repeat, repeat, and then…repeat again

  • The more often you repeat something, the less brainpower you need each successive time. Your brain starts to build habits: small steps are woven into day-to-day life that snowballs into larger and longer-lasting changes. Leaders can make things easy for employees to repeat with a regular drumbeat of communication and by putting systems and processes in place that are aligned to the change.
  • Leaders should not forget that the right incentives need to be in place too – change sticks if employees want to repeat behaviors.

Ultimately, if leaders put these methods rooted in psychology into practice – and focus on what drives people to want to change at the organizational level – the change is more likely to have a lasting impact.

Gisela is a Managing Consultant with Daggerwing Group. She has a background in psychology, HR and Organizational Development which has fostered her keen interest in why people behave the way they do. She is a lifetime learner of behavioral science and tries to find robust and creative ways to weave it into work. Gisela loves to travel and uses the opportunity to try new foods and take colorful photographs.