“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
- Leo Tolstoy
It’s ironic that human beings are as adverse to change as we are. We are constantly dealing with change – we change cars, shoes, PDAs, lunch venues and more all the time. But if you’re in any kind of management or leadership position you know that getting people on board with change can seem about as easy as getting your teenager to do laundry.
Why is that? Why is that young woman on your team who is willing to change her hair colour every three weeks pushing back when you ask her to try a new project management tool? Why does your number-one team leader get excited about moving houses but get testy when you ask for a change in process?
In this article I’ll give you insight into why certain types of change create resistance, and how you as a leader can adjust your approach to achieve buy-in from staff, colleagues and superiors when change is necessary.
One Change versus Another
Contemporary neuroscience is deepening our knowledge about how the human mind works. Realities about human behaviour that we have always observed are now being explained by science because scientists can now literally see how the human brain functions in various contexts and situations.
We know that, when it feels threatened, the human brain’s most primitive functions overtake the newer, more refined and civilized functions of rational thought and problem solving. As a manager, you probably witness this occurrence nearly every day. Some examples:
- A colleague has an irrational, highly emotional reaction to a seemingly innocuous question or statement that you made.
- Two of your team members seem incapable of working together without setting off bursts of anger or anguish in one another with the most mundane statements.
You likely witness these kinds of things often yet might be confused by the innocent triggers that can set off individual’s emotions.
However, by understanding what we call the P.R.I.S.E., you’ll become better able to recognize those seemingly mundane triggers, avoid activating them, and even coach others on your team to do the same.
Give the P.R.I.S.E.
“P.R.I.S.E.” is an acronym that describes five components of interaction that the human brain needs to feel secure. Neuroscience shows us that feeling secure, or safe, is critical for higher level brain function to occur. Put another way: in order to have a rational, thoughtful engagement with a staff member or colleague, their brains (and yours!) need these five elements present:
- Predictability – people need to know what’s happening. This could mean knowing what you expect of them, understanding how their work contributes to company performance, what your longer-term intentions for them are, and so on.
- Relatedness – people need to feel included in the group. This may mean feeling that you care about them as a person, that they are included whenever possible in meetings, activities and correspondence, that you work at resolving conflicts they may have with co-workers.
- Independence – people need to feel in control of their own lives. Have you provided the materials and equipment the individual needs to do their work right? When you delegate tasks, do you also give individuals the liberty to choose how they will manage those tasks? Do you give choices and options? These are just a few examples of how independence may factor in to the reaction to change.
- Status – people need to feel that they are not inferior or unimportant. Beyond knowing where they fit, they need to feel recognized for good work, and that they have the opportunities to do what they do best every day.
- Equity – people need to feel that they are treated fairly in comparison to their peers.
Let’s go back and apply the P.R.I.S.E. to one of the examples that I began with: the creative employee with multiple hair colours. Consider why she might be bucking at the notion of trying new project management tool:
- P: does she understand why the change is being recommended? Could she be worried that the change foretells of more drastic measures that would put her job in jeopardy?
- R: is she secure with her place in the work group or is she an outlier? Is it possible that she feels that having to learn a new tool will alienate or set her apart from the group?
- I: has she been empowered to investigate alternative tools, or to become knowledgeable about the new tool on her own terms?
- S: is she recognized for her strengths and good work? If so, how can the new tool play to her strengths? If no, perhaps she sees the change as a ploy to reveal incompetence.
- E: is she the only employee who is affected by the change, or is there a group of individuals who are “all in the same boat”? Can they be given a P.R.I.S.E. as a team and enabled to work together on making the change a success?
Often during periods of change in the workplace, decisions come down from the top and there is very little P.R.I.S.E. in the deal for anyone. As a leader, your ability to influence change in a positive way depends on your ability to communicate the need for change to others in a manner that gets buy-in. To do so, you need to ensure the (social) threat is minimized in how the change is communicated and also in how the change is implemented. That’s what I mean when I say that you need to “give people their P.R.I.S.E.”
The Mindset for Change
To lead others successfully through change, to prepare to give everyone affected by the change their P.R.I.S.E., you’ll first need to put your own brain into a state that is open to change. You have to get the P.R.I.S.E. yourself before you can meaningfully give it to others!
I’d like to conclude by giving you three things that you can do to prepare yourself to accept and to lead change.
1. Give yourself permission to not have all the answers. The people you need to influence may have questions about the change that can’t be answered, or the answers may change often. Don’t let this make you feel inadequate. Instead, focus your energy and your team’s attention on the aspects of the work environment that you can control.
2. Accept the idea that change is constant. In complex times, leaders need to be agile and that means treating change as part of an ongoing process rather than a finite task. Rather than creating an expectation that the change at hand will have a specific end point or outcome and then it will be behind you, instead talk about change as normal. For example: “We’re going to do this, and eventually we’ll reach an impasse and that will allow us to restart the process again to achieve the next milestone.”
3. Prepare yourself to communicate for change. Use the P.R.I.S.E. model above to prepare how you will communicate the need for change to each staff member and colleague. Each individual’s P.R.I.S.E. will be unique, so prepare by thinking individually about each team member and what P.R.I.S.E. they’ll need.
Current brain science gives us the information we need to create brain states that are accepting of change. The P.R.I.S.E. model is just one tool that you can use to apply contemporary neuroscience to become a more effective leader during periods of change.
The Leadership Group’s program for Change Leadership, Communicating for Engagement and Performance™ (CEP) goes into greater depth about this skill set. For an introduction to our approaches to leadership development, you can take one (or both) of our upcoming two-day courses in Ottawa starting in April and May:
• Winning Them Over: The Brain-Power™ Management Communication Toolkit
• Brain-Power™ Performance Management: Overcome Emotions to Review, Encourage and Manage Performance
You can also contact The Leadership Group to learn more about Brain-Power™ Leadership, or visit our website for details about all of our Brain-Power™ based courses, programs and services designed for today’s managers, executives and leaders.