A New Model for Change

I’ve often said that I’m not a fan of models and blueprints.

And yet, despite that fact, I’m here to write about a model of change.

Why? Because this isn’t a model of how to do change. It’s a model of the factors that impact change, regardless of what type of change it is, and regardless of whether or not it succeeds.

Can we extrapolate from this model to think about, and plan for, how to succeed? Of course. But these factors are present whether we choose to do so or not, and regardless of how careful we are to consider each of them.

Will they save us from poor planning, poor resource management, or poor task management? No, of course not. However, the project-management skills of change are fairly well known, important, and should not be overlooked.

These are the people factors – which often, unfortunately, are overlooked.

Neuroscience

Our brains don’t like change. The primary purpose of the brain is to keep us safe, physically, emotionally, psychologically. Change is inherently uncertain and therefore inherently unsafe.

Is that entirely rational? Of course not. Sometimes we must change in order to stay safe. But the deep-down wiring of our brain doesn’t like that, and will often resort to the “fight-freeze-flight” response when faced with change.

Especially change that’s unexpected and/or change we feel we have no control over.

Identity

Research maven Adam Grant said it best:

“Research shows that when people are resistant to change, it helps to reinforce what will stay the same. Visions for change are more compelling when they include visions of continuity. Although our strategy might evolve, our identity will endure.”

(I really like Grant’s work because it’s both accessible and 100% backed by rigorous research.)

It may seem odd to think of identity in relation to change. But especially post-pandemic – given that many if not most of us did at least some re-evaluation of what we were doing and why – people want to feel aligned with the organization they work for. A change that appears to threaten that identity, and therefore their alignment, is likely to run into problems.

Environment

We’re all familiar with the advice to put our gym clothes where we’ll fall over them in the morning, if we want to develop a workout habit.

That’s an environmental change.

What we often overlook, though, is that – regardless of the change we might want to make – our current environment is perfectly designed to keep us exactly where we are: unchanging.

Making even the smallest tweak in the environment – as long as we make it with the intention that it’s to support the change we want – will help keep focus on that change. Interestingly, the environmental tweak doesn’t even have to be obviously related to the change, as long as we establish that the change is why we’re making the tweak.

And under it all …

There’s a fourth icon in that diagram, and that’s the one that either does or doesn’t support the change: how we talk about it.

As I wrote about here and here, what we think of as “communication” is often actually “telling.”

Instead, we need to have conversations about change – whether that change is coming from leadership within the organization, or is coming at us from outside forces.

It’s not complicated

But it’s also not simple. Managing these factors requires understanding of, and skill with, tools that are often overlooked as part of team management on up into executive leadership. If understood at all, these tools are lumped into the “soft skills” category, making them immediately perceived as less valuable.

It’s unfortunate that this happens – to say the least.


Want to know more about the model – and the tools? Drop me a note through my contact form and we’ll set a time to talk.