three boy s jumping into the water

Photo by Marc Richards on

I love to swim. But, for many people, swimming or being underwater is a frightening experience.  Many of us, even the most confident swimmers, will remember the scary feeling of having to go to the deep end of the pool for the first time. Being out of your depth can be very unnerving.

On one of my recent trips to the pool, I saw a group of young children heading to the deep end for the first time with their swimming teacher.  Some of them jumped right in and some needed some help.  And some refused to do it altogether.  It reminded me of the different reactions that people have to organisation change.

Much has been written about the neuroscience of organisation change.  As an introduction to the field, I would recommend David Rock and Hilary Scarlett. Feeling uncertain and out of our depth can trigger our fight or flight response and lead to reduced performance at work.  It can even lead to acts of resistance by employees.

So, what can organisations do about it?  The difficulties of creating sustainable change is well known with few organisations achieving the desired outcomes of their change efforts.  My recent doctoral research has shown that by changing the way that change is communicated and planned, a greater likelihood of success is achieved.  And this had led me to the develop the ChangeStories method to support organisations in doing this.

Firstly, change cannot be top down.  Employees must be included throughout the change process.  And this shouldn’t just be communication. It needs to be full involvement, with employees being given the opportunity to share their stories and experiences of change throughout the change process.  These stories should be used to shape the way that change is enacted.

Also, the history of the organisation and the impact that this can have on the sustainability of change within an organisation, cannot be underestimated.  Therefore, attention needs to be paid to this history before change is begun to understand what is actually achievable in this organisation.

Finally, consideration needs to be given to the way that employees perceive themselves within the organisation.  So often, individuals are characterized as change champions or as resistant to change by others.  Actually, what is most important is how people perceive themselves.  Again, this can be understood through the stories that people tell about change and how they see themselves within it.  And this information can then be used to shape change activity so that is less scary.

Change in organisations can be complicated.  But, if more time is taken to understand individuals rather than treating everyone the same, change will be more sustainable. After all, you can’t change an organisation, you can only change the people within it.

Be like the swimming teacher, allowing employees to change at their own rate and take the plunge when they are ready.

To find out more about the ChangeStories approach, do get in touch.  I’d love to hear from you.