I’m always amazed at how infrequently those leading change in organizations consider the psychology behind it. Change is seen as hard work, we assume there will be resistance, and that the resistance is due to people being difficult, stuck in their ways and unable to see the benefits to the business as they are absorbed in their own self-interest.
Do you recognize those sentiments? Well, knock them on the head right now!
People are not resistant to change. They are resistant to anything that challenges their beliefs.
Psychologist Leon Festinger, as far back as 1957, explained his theory of cognitive dissonance. He noted that when people’s beliefs are not consistent with their actions it creates severe mental disturbance. And as a result we have to do something; either alter our beliefs or alter our actions.
This is not awkwardness, belligerence or mean-spirited – it is a deep-seated psychological need that we all have to balance out the things that do not “add up” in our minds.
Our beliefs are fundamental to our sense of self. And when organizations appeal to what people believe in they tend to have businesses that create strong engagement with their employees. For example, people who work for The Body Shop tend to share the beliefs of the Founder, Anita Roddick, at least certainly when she was at the helm. There are many examples of similar businesses – the employees believe what the business believes and so they are engaged. And interestingly, these organizations are often the most innovative!
Why is this? Why do some companies take their people along with them when they change?
Here is the magic bit:
Because when people believe in the purpose of the organization they won’t just be happy to change – they will feel compelled to change because if they do not they will feel cognitive dissonance! Not changing causes them stress and is unsettling.
So, the first of my messages is that all organizations need to think about what they believe in – what their purpose is, how they can communicate this and help people to understand and believe in it too.
And then, only then, begin to think about how to change – because, when your people believe what you believe THEY will be the ones driving change for YOU!