May 11, 2020 4:48:51 PM
Senior Consultant, Design
Employees react in different ways when faced with change. Fears may emerge and it can be more difficult for some than others. Fostering a culture of trust and open communication is key to getting everyone on board.
We know that change often leads to improvement, yet it’s often easier to stay in our comfort zone and stick with what we know. But how can we expect different results or progress in a new direction if we stick to old habits? We cannot, which is why we need a culture that enables transformation.
So what does this change mindset look like on a personal, team and management level? And how can we build a culture where transformation can take place and new ideas can flow easily?
Fear of change and of the unknown is a common stumbling block that hinders transformation and innovation at all levels. People are often fearful when they don’t know enough, or when they don’t feel safe enough. These fears come from a primitive place inside us all, and they easily surface in the modern workplace – especially when change is required.
Google studied 180 of its teams for two years in a bid to find out what makes a team effective. The key finding was that it was less about who was on the team, and more about how its members worked together. And the most important factor for working well together was psychological safety. In other words, trust.
What we can learn from this is that it's important to foster an environment where people can bounce around new ideas without fear of embarrassment or of making a mistake.
If you continue to think and work in a certain way, then it's reasonable to assume that outcomes will be the same too. It’s unrealistic to set expectations and define goals at a completely new level, and yet continue to do things the way they have always been done.
If we want something new to happen, we must be brave enough to change.
And yes, it's scary to leap into the unknown. What if I mess up? What if this new idea isn’t good enough? What if this is the wrong move?
Fortunately, there are ways to ease these fears. And the answer is often to be found in the people around us. It's all about how we communicate with our colleagues.
The best ideas aren’t often the first ideas. And sometimes the worst ideas eventually turn out to be the best ideas.
Language is a dangerous tool when used incorrectly – it can kill a potential idea faster than one can say "no, but..." and explain why they have doubts. Negative language also harms the feeling of psychological safety in a team, which in turn can reduce motivation and damage productivity.
Ideas need to be discussed, explored, developed and finalised before they become tangible. So it's essential to create conditions where people feel they can suggest an idea without fear of ridicule.
Certain individuals in a team may find change and adopting new ways of working to be particularly challenging. It helps to remember that these reactions – as previously discussed – are often drawn from fear of the unknown. It may simply take more time for some people to adopt new thought processes, communication skills and working patterns.
By using mindful language, we can support an individual who is blocking change or new ideas. Their challenges can often be resolved by suggesting a new way of working as a gradual process, rather than as a sudden mandate to change overnight. Including people in sessions that review how the change has or hasn’t worked can also help to ease the pain of the transformation process.
It’s important to get the most resistant individuals on board with any change, as everyone has a role in creating the safe and solution-oriented culture that enables transformation. Change is a team effort.
There are several tools that leaders and managers may find useful when leading change.
Hierarchy may be standing in the way of innovation and transformation. A good example of this is the ‘HiPPO’ effect (the 'highest paid person's opinion'), which can be one of the most damaging aspects for any team’s work. Managers must know when to step back, and need to respect every opinion, idea and effort from the team.
There is really listening, and then there is acting like you are listening while actually thinking about other things. It’s good for managers and non-managers alike to question ourselves about this. Am I truly listening and considering what the other person is saying? Has my mind already been made up about the issue before listening to the other person? Listen first – really listen – and then decide.
Nobody will take a risk or go the extra mile if there is fear of failure and embarrassment in the back of their mind. So be conscious about how you react to failures, and what type of language is used. Mistakes and failures should happen even more when an organisation is changing and trying new things.
When a manager wants people to succeed, they need to remember that sometimes these people will fail. Let them to do so, and support them through it. Failures are best dealt with early on, and in an open culture there should be no fear of discussing failures or mistakes.
Managers need to be examples of the change they want to see in others. By modelling the positive change mindset, you as a manager can demonstrate how to approach transformation effectively, and allow others to follow in your footsteps.
The famous quote "with great power comes great responsibility" can be applied to managers too. Your words and actions can have a significant impact on your team's culture, so be sure to communicate openly and be part of actively building the trust and safety of your team. This also means challenging yourself just as you expect the members of your team to challenge themselves.
It's often said that communication is the key to successful change. And when we are dealing with organisational change, our fear of failing is the lock we need to open with that key.
Positive and solution-oriented communication injects the realism you need. Measuring results and recognising areas for improvement keep even the most visionary teams in touch with reality. When you have a safe culture where open communication is encouraged, mistakes can be dealt with immediately and improvements can be introduced in a constructive way.
Trust and psychological safety correlate directly with the motivation and productivity of a team. So building a culture and mindset that enable change is a concrete step towards increased productivity, better results and higher profits.
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