Organisational Change: We’ve Got a Change Problem!

Organisational change problem

This is the first in a series of three blogs developed in partnership with Nick Smith at Epion Consulting in which we talk about our organisational change problem; a critical, but neglected, issue in effecting successful organisational change and importantly, how we can address it.

Deborah and Nick will be discussing approaches to successful organisational change at our upcoming webinar: Brain-Friendly Change at 12:30pm on 22nd June, to sign up to the webinar please click here.

We’ve got an organisational change problem

We’ve got an organisational change problem, one that manifests even where change is being enabled well.

Yes, we’ve learned that we must pay attention and devote resource to change, rather than merely implement new structures and deploy new processes and systems. And, to varying degrees, we’ve understood the importance of winning hearts and minds, creatively engaging and then equipping teams for change.

We’ve started with new operating models, and put in place systematic impact assessments; benefit work-streams; and good governance. We’ve (appropriately) professionalised change management. If that’s not how your organisation handles change, then you’re behind the curve (do give us a call); however, that’s not the organisational change problem we’d like to highlight here.

The challenge is that of individual and team capacity for change

No, the challenge we’re talking about is that of individual and team capacity for change.

And right now, as we emerge from Covid and forging new ways of working, we are all continually engaging with significant and continuous constant change in our organisations. Yet, there’s less human capacity for change than there’s been for years, decades perhaps. And our ability to change fundamentally relates to our capacity for change, the human capacity to connect, disconnect and reconnect over and over again.

Anxiety, stress and fatigue all impact our capacity for change

It is not something to be that can be addressed with an extra dash of creative engagement and excellent learning.  Why? Here’s why:

  • Advances in neurological understanding make it clear that human ability to engage with change (well, frankly, with anything much) is impacted by factors such as anxiety, stress, and fatigue (Arnsten, 2015)
  • Specifically, anxiety, fatigue, stress, and trauma reduce both resilience and something called ‘attentional capacity’ – our ability to engage with something, to pay attention to it. (Harvard Business Review, 2021)
  • There’s abundant evidence as we emerge from a Covid-dominated landscape that we are stressed, fatigued and anxious to a significantly greater extent than we were in early March 2020 (Nature.com, 2021)
  • So, that being the case, there just is less capacity for change in our organisations at a time when the pace of change continues to accelerate. (Guardian, 2021)

Successful organisational change methodologies need to take into account our level of calm, wellbeing and psychological safety

If our organisational change methodologies and toolkits incorporated ways to both assess and address our sense of calm, wellbeing and ‘psychological safety’ (which underpins capacity and ultimately performance) we’d be OK – but they don’t. And trying to address a capacity issue with better engagement, fuller communication, and more accessible learning is like trying to get two litres of water into a one litre container by heating the water. It’s not going to happen.

So, what do we need to do to address our organisational change problem? We’ll talk about that in our next blog.  You can also join Deborah Hulme and Nick Smith at our upcoming webinar on Brain-Friendly Change at 12:30pm on 22nd June, to sign up to the webinar please click here.

For more information on our approach to Brain-Friendly Change, please get in touch with jennie.flower@minervaengagement.com.

References

Arnsten, A., 2015. Stress weakens prefrontal networks: molecular insults to higher cognition. Nature Neuroscience, 18(10), pp.1376-1385.

the Guardian. 2021. Peter Diamandis: ‘In the next 10 years, we’ll reinvent every industry’. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/25/peter-diamandis-future-faster-think-interview-ai-industry> [Accessed 12 May 2021].

Nature.com. 2021. COVID’s mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression. [online] Available at: <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00175-z> [Accessed 12 May 2021].

Harvard Business Review. 2021. Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform. [online] Available at: <https://hbr.org/2005/01/overloaded-circuits-why-smart-people-underperform> [Accessed 12 May 2021].

Raichle, M., 2015. The Brain’s Default Mode Network. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 38(1), pp.433-447.