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by John Hugo, Change Delivery Associates
What does change mean?
Verb: Make or become different: “a proposal to change the law”; “to change the way things are done”
Noun: The act or instance of making or becoming different
Verb: Alter, exchange, vary, shift, convert, transform
Noun: Alteration, shift, variation, exchange, mutation
Change is about doing ‘something’ differently, exchanging one set of ‘habits’ for another. Exploring habits, we talk about ways of doing something or a tendency to do certain things; however we think of them, habits are always considered hard to give up. Change and habits are closely linked. Can a process, software or system have habits? Not yet, but people’s live are made up of a collection of habits. So change is about people… we tend to put people in boxes; is this because they fit into them or do we prefer to put them in one? When we stereotype someone (put them in a box), what makes the stereotyping useful? For example: who do we seek to help when we describe people as ‘Shapers’ or ‘Plants’ (Belbin), the individual, those describing them, or both? Or does it just mean we can feel as though we know them better now we have put them into a box? Does it just mean that we can put them in a personality model and get different people to work better together or simply the variables? Or does it just help us to explain the only genuinely complex thing we have come across? People.
Models for change; do they help us remember the boxes we should tick, or provide solutions? They do nothing to deliver change or make a business psychologist more able to support a business or individuals through change. They can be and often are used to formulate a reason to do something that is supposed to deliver change. Is this right? Can so many models for change all be right? No.
There is no ‘silver bullet’, ‘solution’ or ‘panacea’ for change, ‘do it our way’ or ‘our method delivers’ are fantasies; if we choose to convince ourselves otherwise it is to our own detriment, but most importantly it represents a real danger to those we seek to support. It is human nature to want a simple answer; neuroscience has taken our understanding to a whole new level. Our current understanding of the subconscious suggests it will always seek to take the easiest options in a given situation, but does this mean business psychologists should do the same; for financial gain, simplicity or because it is the best option for those being supported?
To be able to help others to change, whether organisations, team or individuals, we need to know ourselves. Do we know enough about ourselves and what makes us tick to ensure we offer the best advice we can? Or do we too readily provide replicated advice from a previous client, job, tool or book we have read? Why do we think and behave the way we do?
Every person is different; many things can bring people together like culture, religion, family, jobs… But we are still different.
Let’s take a collection of people – a ‘board’. Everyone is different in terms of background, experience, intelligence (how ever that is defined), education, upbringing, aspirations, beliefs, interests, delusions, fears, hopes. How would they work together to deliver change? And why would they if one has aspirations of authority, another requires validation, another is looking for power, one for security, one is self-deluded to believe they are not in it for themselves, others ignore the difference between talk and delivery, some live in the past, one lacks confidence, another integrity, one has a skewed view of the world and others in the group and they’re simply doing the best they can.
This could describe any collection of people sitting around any board table all around the world. You might also say that we are many or all of these things at the same time, with some parts stronger or just closer to the surface than others
A group of totally different individuals (that have a least their membership of the group in common) have to choose to work together, for their collective benefit. However, the collective benefit that will encourage them to work together is often not as obvious or agreed as it may seem. Whatever the benefit, they still have to ‘choose’ to work together and change.
Change has to be a choice we make. Other than a pharmaceutical approach, helping people choose to break or change the habit is everything that business psychology is.
My starting question is always – will this board (in this example) choose to change and truly work together for their collective benefit? How much do I need to change them to help them believe the answer is yes?
If I do not change and use the same tool as I used last time, in the same way, change will fail – as it does in around 75% of cases. These are different people in a different situation, with a different history and culture… But what can I take out of that experience that might fit this situation? Then ask: what is unknown, what am I not being told, what am I uncomfortable with or anxious about, what will limit my ability to be open-minded and flexible? Deal with the answers to these questions, head-on if need be. Otherwise we become part of the problem.
We have to understand or, on occasion, create the ‘mutual’ benefit of breaking the habits of today; understand the reasons for change (if they are not understood) to enable our ability to explore and communicate the direction and elivery of change. Often we spend a great deal of time trying to be 100% ‘right’. I concluded many years ago that it is about being as far from wrong as we can get; we will never be 100% right… The Pareto principle (80/20 rule) is quoted in many situations, but rarely for people and change.
If we connect Pareto to Maslow, who suggested that there are priorities of motivation towards making choices or decisions, it takes us to the very centre of change. Each of Maslow’s five elements mean very different things to each of us. For example: before we get anywhere near self-actualisation (level five); level two of five requires security. The habit changes required in a task or process might make me feel very insecure and may make you (the reader) feel very secure, neither of us would be right or wrong… the impact on the change would be important to understand.
When we combine Pareto and Maslow it suggests we should aim for the majority position for the majority of people. So do we abandon the rest (20%) to their fate; or do we help them see the value in breaking the habits and believe in the possibility that there might be security in the ‘new world’ with new habits. How we do this depends very much on the organisational goals, the history, the culture and clearly the people concerned. It also depends on us and everyone else not obviously impacted by the change.
To conclude this short piece on change, I do not believe there is such a thing as a ‘silver bullet’, a ‘solution’ or ‘a panacea’. Change is not about models of the easy options. Change is about people who, more often than not, prefer the habits they have over the ones being required of them. We all need to change together for change to be delivered successfully and for us to be trusted enough to be able to help.