The Journey Within: Organisational Change From The Individual Outwards

Lasting change in organisations can only come about through individuals choosing to see the journey ahead, and actively taking the first steps, rather than by an external process imposed upon them. It is the ‘journey within’ rather than the journey ‘without’ that really makes overall change possible.

Neuroscience is shedding more light on the process of change and how we can be more effective with change initiatives – shifting attitudes from resistance to engagement and ‘buy in’. In doing so, it is bringing us closer to overcoming one of the key organisational challenges of recent times…

Non-sustainable change

Often, the executive level is bemused at the failure rate of change initiatives. Management theory is followed to the letter and yet resistance levels are high; after an initial period when people seem to have taken the changes on board, they soon revert to previous behaviours.

It is estimated that up to 70 percent of all change management initiatives fail – and this is not a new statistic. It’s been a constant problem for organisations and teams through the years.

Part of the problem is the pressure on organisations to deliver more to the bottom line for shareholders; this results in trying to drive more profit from fewer people, which can place undue stress on individuals. We see that motivation levels drop and absenteeism increases.

In this environment, driving engagement in change initiatives is almost impossible, because people are essentially in ‘survival’ mode. This makes it more difficult to operate in the ‘higher thinking’ mode required to see the ‘bigger picture’. What’s more, such behaviour is contagious and can quickly spread through the entire organisation, with damaging longer term consequences.

An inside-out approach

Neuroscience helps us better understand behaviour and it is increasingly behind new leadership approaches to getting the best out of people.

While we should avoid generalisations when dealing with groups of individuals, neuroscience helps us identify some common characteristics or ‘needs’ of all people. By first understanding and addressing these needs, a more favourable response to change in the longer term can be cultivated.

Change initiatives must consider the following cognitive needs of individuals:

  • To feel part of something cohesive, fair, and safe
  • To express emotions rather than suppress them
  • To feel recognised, valued, and independent
  • To feel understood, supported, and connected to others
  • To be able to see progress
  • To understand the need for change (through the vision)

Leaders need to focus on how they can meet these needs before trying to impose change on their teams; note that some of the needs will be stronger in some people than in others, but all will be present. So it is important to cover each need in the order outlined above.

Leaders will increasingly be judged on their ability to manage change and to mentor to team members – and neuroscience provides some key guiding principles to start with.

By first looking at the human requirements of individuals, we have a new ‘lens’ through which to view change initiatives. Change without engagement is no change at all, because it is not sustainable. Change from the standpoint of first meeting basic needs makes engagement, buy in, and lasting success far more likely.

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