One of the most common phrases heard these days in Management Committees in “innovative” organizations is that of “Change Management”. However, as a linguist, psychotherapist & communication specialist with a special interest in the effects of language on mind & body, I am amazed that so few people actually understand the effects of using this type of terminology on both the mind & body of the people involved in this proposed “Change”.
In Linguistics & Neuro Linguistic Programming, both the word “Change” & “Management” are defined as nominalizations which basically means that each person has their own definition of these words which may, or may not, be the same as their companions in the organization. An easy exercise to test this is to ask a group of 6 people to write down their own definitions of “management”, give them three minutes to complete the task and then get them to read back ONLY what they have written down. Then compare the differences!
Many psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, coaches & NLP specialists speak about ”Changework” & “change” when working with clinical clients: An example from these areas is: “What changes would you like to make?” yet frequently these “Caring professionals” do not observe, notice, or place importance on the effect of these words on the client/patient. In general, people prefer to “improve” instead of “change”.
“Change management” explicitly indicates that there is a need to change and that IT IS going to happen…The decision has been made! However, many people believe that if something has been working more or less effectively for a period of time and has always worked, why is there this newly identified, sudden & urgent need to change? There is also an explicit understanding that whatever is currently being done is ineffective, poor, weak, unprofessional, or lacking in some way & can be taken as a direct, or indirect , comment or criticism of the employees in the organization..
Our studies with both business & clinical clients indicate that when people hear the word “Change”, they immediately start thinking about the following areas (in no particular order):
Fear: Change involves new, known &/or unknown risks in the short-, medium- & long-term and, generally, everyone likes to reduce risks to the minimum. These fears might involve feelings of inadequacy, job security, future prospects within the organization, etc. There are enough risks around us without looking for more in the work environment!
Newness: Change generally requires learning new skills; abilities; techniques; structures; systems; ways of working and the modification of “tried & trusted” working practices. The people affected by the change will be asked to forget what they have learned & done – often after many years of use and, from their point of view, effective functioning. People who have been performing the same function in the same way over a period of time have acquired a level of psychological security which is often lost when change is announced or actually occurs.
This has been identified as “The Einstellung Effect” which posits that:
“After learning to solve a problem one way, we are blind to other more efficient methods.”
Change in power or status:
Change is always accompanied by a perceived or actual loss, or gain, in power or status. People generally have a perception of their relative power or status within any organization, whether it be in a business or family context, and this directly affects their methods of interaction with other components in this unit. When change occurs it requires the people involved to modify their own self-perception and perception of others; find new ways of interacting with co-workers; develop new skills and abilities and psychologically adapt to the changes in power & status.
Change is often accompanied by an increase or decrease in responsibility which may or may not be accompanied by adjustments to the employees’ salaries. Not everyone wants to have additional responsibilities thrust upon them or, conversely, have responsibilities taken from them which could be seen as a “demotion” or punishment by coworkers.
Resistance from some and Acceptance from others.
There are certain types of people who are resistant to change and will often fight tooth-and-nail against it. There is another large group of people who have absolutely no problems adopting change – even on an almost daily basis! The third, and smallest, group need much more time to accept, assimilate & incorporate change into their “whole being” than the two previous groups.
New “strange” abilities required?
In some case “change” means that the people involved need to develop new abilities that they might feel are strange or difficult for them to acquire or perfect: one example is that of using Information Technology (computers, etc.) or Social Networking, etc.
Excessive / Incomplete / insufficient information.
In many organizations there are usually three tendencies followed when dealing with !Change”:
1. Keep all the information about what, where, when, why, how, who, etc., secret until the launch date so that everyone get ALL the data in one gigantic information overload.
2. Start with small / minor “cosmetic changes” or mini-projects without revealing the overall grand design of these elements. This is something that encourages the rumour factory in the organization to function overtime.
3. Start the process without telling the people affected what the aims, objectives and steps involved which creates the perception that it is “insignificant”.
Pressures: time, etc?
Frequently “change” is based on a timetable of activities and actions which are fixed by the “Change Manager” and must be completed On Time! This is a nice, highly structured, little system for some people (about 12% of the population), however, for another part of the population, the pressure of time, completion dates, etc., can cause stress which can undermine any activities that directly affect them or their environment.
For many people, it is easier to reject than to change This rejection can lead to a reduced level of commitment to the changes being implemented with negative effects on the organization.
As we can seem from the information above, I would like to propose that instead of using the phrase “Change Management” in our organization, we use one of the following phrases “Improvement Management”; “Improvement implementation”; “Improvement & development” or “improvement fulfillment”.
The phrase “Improvement Management” is generally seen as being much more positive, non-threatening, more effective, more motivational and easier to process psychologically which helps the organization move forward in its plans for development & innovation.
In the second article related to this topic we will deal with some of the common errors encountered in this process.
(c) Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain, September, 2012.
Bilingual web page (English & Spanish): http://www.brownlee-associates.com