People responsible for planning and implementing change often forget that while the first task of change management is to understand the destination and how to get there, the first task of transition management is to convince people to leave home.
Transition: the psychological process people go through to come to terms with new situations.
The ease with which individual team members adapt to change and navigate the internal transition will depend on a number of factors. The list below is far from exhaustive but being aware of these may help you understand individuals’ reactions, find solutions, sidestep barriers completely, have greater empathy for team members, and have greater compassion for yourself as you experience the inevitable frustrations.
Seven factors that influence people’s reaction to change:
How much control people feel they have
This refers both to the experience of the individual in their role and in their workplace generally, day to day, as well as the degree of involvement and control in the change process. If someone experiences a high degree of uncertainty in a situation where they feel very little control or agency they are more likely to have a threat response – distance themselves, close off, and defend.
Where people sit along the different continuums of the Big Five personality factors (Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) will influence how they respond the change. For example, someone who tends to be highly ‘cautious’ and ‘nervous’ will have a very different response to someone one who tends towards the opposite ends of those continuums and is highly ‘curious’ and ‘confident’.
Past experiences of change
Most important to consider here is people’s past experiences, good and bad, of change at work because we do naturally make predictions for the future based on past experience. But past personal experience can also influence a person’s response. Whether it be a merger which felt more like a hostile takeover, or moving schools nine times before the age of 16y, these experiences can feed into their present day stories.
How much other change is going on in people’s lives at the same time
If someone is experiencing a lot of changes at the same time their capacity, readiness, and willingness to deal effectively with each of those changes will be reduced. You are unlikely to time a large-scale change process around one individual’s load but knowing about it may at least help understand their responses, or, if required, manage their responses and provide support.
Their Psychological Capital
Psychological Capital (PsyCap) is defined as “an individual’s positive psychological state of development”* which is characterized by having high levels of HERO; the four elements of Hope, (Self-)Efficacy, Resilience, and Optimism. When a person has all four components, they have a psychological resource over and above each individual resource. These are employee psychological resources which, importantly, are able to be developed and will enable employees to have greater change readiness.
Research tells us that in collective cultures if a goal is important to the family group then people are more likely to pursue it. In more western cultures people have a preference for goals that important to oneself rather than the group (however if they start to get ostracised by the group this will change). Culture influences intrinsic motivation.
How others in an individuals’ environment respond to changes that individual makes will influence how successful that change is (i.e. reward and punishment). For example, an African American student who answers their teacher’s questions may be more likely to get beaten up on way home; women are more likely to get cut down and silenced than men; a man who asks for flexibility to accommodate parenting responsibilities may have his commitment questioned. Socialised, stereotyped, expected behaviours influence how others respond when individuals deviate from those expectations.
The power of these factors to influence people’s reaction to, and readiness for change highlights the importance of getting to know your team members as individuals. Not only their deliverables, their strengths, and their career ambitions, but also their change experiences past and present, and what really matters to them.
*(Fred Luthans, et al., 2007)
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