The Science of Change

The Science of Change


Modern business ideology says that change is good. With technology changing at an almost daily rate we have had no choice but to embrace change as the holy grail of growth and innovation, but is this in fact the case, or do many of us actually shy away from change, never quite embracing it so much as simply accepting the inevitable?

According to strategy consultant Bertie du Plessis, who has worked with a number of local blue-chip companies in devising both internal and external communication strategies, although people who embrace change are applauded in today’s business world, the reality is that most of us resist the idea of change – sometimes vehemently.

Resisting change

“Business leaders who force change upon their management teams and employees without explaining the change or understanding that the majority of them will actually be opposed to the change, might do more harm than good,” Du Plessis explains. “Employees who are not on board with the proposed change can resist it in a number ways, ultimately derailing the process entirely or at the very least stunting the company’s growth.” To get managers and employees on board, it is important to first understand how people deal with change – and adjust one’s leadership style accordingly.

Approaching change

Here’s a figure you might not be aware of: 50% of the population rejects change, while only 16% embraces it wholeheartedly. The remaining 34% will accept change – but only once its worth has been proven to them.

While these figures are used extensively in marketing strategies, thanks to Schiffman and Kanuk’s Consumer Behaviour, they are not often turned to when dealing with employees. The result: managers and employees who fear change, but whose feelings are disregarded as ‘backwards’. Du Plessis draws on Darwin’s theories to explain this aversion to change, namely that there are negative effects to the survival chances of organisms that change too slowly or too quickly.

In other words, being opposed to change is in our genes. Similarly, businesses that change too quickly can experience negative impacts just as companies that never change do. The trick is recognising when to change and then implementing that change successfully.
Du Plessis’ advice: “Do not disregard the feelings of your employees. The truly innovative leader not only recognises when change is necessary, but can lead the company forward as a united entity that embraces change as well.”

Combating resistance

“Did you know that only one third of the population are optimists?” Du Plessis asks. “That third also tends to embrace change. The rest of the population is far more motivated by the threat of loss than the promise of reward.” How then can business owners encourage their teams to accept change? According to Du Plessis there are three steps they can follow to encourage their employees to embrace change:

1. Highlight why not changing would be bad
“People respond much more strongly to the negative than the positive,” he says. “The threat of loss is much more powerful than the promise of reward. You need to paint a picture of gloom so that your employees fear the idea of not changing more than the idea of change itself.”

2. Follow with the positive
“Once you have highlighted the negatives, turn to all the positive reasons for change. Pessimists will always find fault in positive reasons, which is why you follow the negative with the positive. Your employees are far more likely to embrace the positives once they are convinced of the negatives,”
he continues.

3. Manage the process
“Simply convincing your employees that change is necessary is only the first step,” says Du Plessis. “Implementing the change will still bring some fear and apprehension. Continue to remind your team why the company has embarked on this path.”

Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.