We need to start thinking more systemically about organisational change. I mean, we need to move beyond the first A (acceptance) and start thinking about the other two (acceptance and adaptability).
Lewin, Hiatt, Kotter and others have helped us think in terms of the first ‘A’ – how managers should approach organisational change. And it’s true – the way managers and leaders approach change makes a difference to how things turn out. They need to clearly understand what’s most important and how to shape it into reality.
But, to many people, the first ‘A’ is the only one that really matters. In their view if change is planned, mapped out, and resourced, it’s good to go. But that’s wrong! That’s not systems thinking. It’s reductionistic, two-dimensional thinking.
A system has many parts. The managers and leaders who direct the change are just one part of the system. The people who are most impacted by the change are another part of the system. Many times it is these people who have the greatest influence over how well the change works. The next two ‘A’s relate to these people.
The second ‘A’ is ‘acceptance’. If you want your change to succeed, you must get the people who will be most impacted to accept the change. Don’t think of this only from the perspective of the manager. You need to think of it from the perspective of the person whose job is going to be affected. What would they want to know about this change? How could it positively impact them? They want to know why it’s happening, but also how they will be supported through it, and how it will make their prospects better. Even if the change means someone will lose their position, you can still build some acceptance by helping the person prepare for their next move.
Speak to the Fears
Most people are afraid change will make their jobs more uncertain and more difficult. People worry about how they will cope and how well they will perform. They fear change because it introduces uncertainty and challenges them to learn new things and forego old securities. They find it hard to accept change if they feel railroaded, backed into a corner, with little or no control.
To build acceptance you must speak to legitimate fears – acknowledge them, let people talk about them, but shape the stories they tell around them. Where there is fear, bring strategies that build security. Build hope and help people see benefits in the changes. Be responsive to people. And remember, it’s hard for them to learn new things if they’re anxious.
Acceptance isn’t mostly about the manager or leader – though it’s a problem if the manager can’t accept the change. Acceptance is about what happens in the hearts and minds of those who will be most impacted by the change. However, it has implications for the manager. These implications focus around what is communicated, how it is communicated, by whom it’s communicated, and the context of the communication. These are things the manager/leader can influence.
What about the third ‘A’? This one stands for ‘adaptability’. Everyone in the organisation needs to be adaptable in times of change. People who find it hard to be adaptable get easily stressed and often disengage and become resistant.
But what does it take to be adaptable? What are the components of adaptability? Is it the same as being resilient, or agile? The ‘change fitness’ concept helps us understand the nature of adaptability.
Change Fitness and Adaptability
Change fitness is not something you can see, but you can see its effect in how people respond to change. Those with lots of change fitness have greater capacity to deal with the uncertainties and challenges of the change process. They possess the right psychological resources that enable them to not only survive, but even thrive in changing environments. If you want to know more about change fitness and the role it plays in personal and organisational change, I invite you to reach out to me.
Influencing the System
Looking at organisational change as a system we can see how the 3 ‘A’s influence each other. Managers and leaders need to approach change with a scientific understanding of what works and implement it with sensitivity and responsiveness to the needs of others. Those who are most affected by the change need to accept the change. They need to understand how it will help them respond effectively to changing times and open up to new and productive possibilities. And everyone needs the psychological resources that make them adaptable. Being adaptable means having the capacity to act as the primary agents of change in our own lives.
When the 3 ‘A’s operate in harmony, change has the best chance of success. If you would like to know more about this topic and how to operationalise it, I invite you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Steve Barlow CCFP
Personal Change Fitness Coach
Organisational Change Readiness Consultant