And why most change management efforts fail?

The anatomy of the change process seems to be often overlooked and not taken into consideration when stipulating the results. 

The Brain in Action

The key aim of the brain is survival. Its protective mechanisms keep us alive and got us where we are today, yet they are becoming less effective in today’s corporate world. And that is the main problem. Thanks to neuroscience, a field of study that helps us understand how our brain works and the impact of change on its performance, we know today that the brain perceives uncertainty, volatility, ambiguity, and unpredictability the same way as it would when it registers a threat of a lion in the savannah. It activates the same part of the brain and triggers the same reaction — an acute stress response (aka fight or flight response) as if we were faced with actual life-threatening concern.

Then, unpredictability and uncontrollability, in particular, create a malicious combination with which our brain finds it extremely difficult to deal. This in return further elevates stress levels which produces undesirable emotions and contributes to overall disengagement and alteration of our perception of reality and defaults us to unproductive ways of being. And if that was not enough, the brain does not know the difference between the thought about the experience and the experience itself. Go figure!

The Impact of Change On The Brain

  • Our brain is innately wired to protect us — hence its resistance to change.
  • Our brain is wired for negativity, as it increases our chances of survival.
  • Our brain runs on autopilot by creating habits to preserve energy. Any learning activity costs our brain at least 25% more energy than a task it can do on autopilot.
  • Our brain is focused on minimizing threats and maximizing rewards. Minimizing a threat is a much more effective motivator.
  • Any news, even bad news, is perceived as better than no news.
  • Knowing prevents rumination and allows us to plan.
  • Not knowing triggers the brain to start running its predictive script by filling the gaps of missing information and creating suitable interpretations of the situation, aka creating a new storyline.
  • To assure predictability, the brain secures the future by learning from the past.

Without fully appreciating those invisible dynamics continuously taking place inside of our brain, we have no chance to endure or make the best out of people during the change process. 

Kasia Jamroz

Any change management process design must include the following points to make it worthwhile: 

  • We cannot make any sustainable changes without changing our brain neuropathways.
  • To create new results, we must utilize what we know about the brain; otherwise, our efforts will not generate the outcomes we desire.
  • To change unproductive habits, we need to replace them with new ones by consciously and repetitively engaging our thinking brain in the creation of a new blueprint of the desired result.
  • Our personality influences our effectiveness in dealing with change.
  •  Self-awareness is key.

What Can We Do?

Fortunately, neuroscience provides insights into what can be done to help people to settle their minds and refocus when challenged by uncertainty. As always, small things make a big difference. 

Here are the things we can help people to get on board with change:

  • Invest in your people by helping them to practice an open mindset and self- awareness.
  • Encourage the development of own insights about why change is needed.
  • Create psychological safety were giving constructive feedback is welcomed and invited, mistakes are openly admitted and people are invited to learn to form each other
  • Understand what motivates people (money or purpose)
  • Build a culture where you celebrate mistakes 
  • Embrace openness – it helps people stop wondering what others want to hear
  • Reward right behavior, not just results
  • Celebrate victories — even the smallest ones. The accomplishment of small, actionable steps brings us closer to achieving our long-term goals.
  • Show people gratitude.
  • Invest in people’s wellbeing – many undesirable behaviors are just coping mechanisms. If we don’t find a way to release them, it is more likely we will create more stress by keeping a lid on it.

From my experiences with working with people, I have learned there is no magic bullet to deal with change because it truly requires alteration of neural pathways in our brains. New solutions cannot be created in old ways and doing what we have always done can only deliver what is known already. 

Neuroscientist Sam Harris notes, “My mind begins to seem like a video game: I can either play it intelligently, learning more in each round, or I can be killed in the same spot by the same monster, again and again.” That said, we can keep hitting the wall and complain about why we cannot get people on board with the change processes or we can do something radical and different — something we have never done before — and see where it will take us.








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