We've got a change problem!
Updated: Jun 1
This is the first in a series of three blogs co-authored with Deborah Hulme of Minerva Engagement in which we talk about a critical, but neglected, issue in effecting organisational change and, importantly, how we can address it. Join us, too, for the upcoming webinar at 12:30 on 22nd June. To secure your place sign up here.
We’ve got an on-going problem with change, one that manifests even where change is being enabled
well. Yes, we’ve learned that we must pay attention and devote resource to change, rather than merely implement new structures and deploy new processes and systems. And, to varying degrees, we’ve understood the importance of winning hearts and minds, creatively engaging and then equipping teams for change. We’ve started with new operating models,and put in place systematic impact assessments; benefit workstreams; and good governance. We’ve (appropriately) professionalised change management.
If that’s not how your organisation handles change, then you’re behind the curve (do give us a call); however, that’s not the problem. No, the challenge we’re talking about here is that of individual and team capacity for change. And right now, as we emerge from Covid and forge new ways of working, we are all continually engaging with significant and constant change in our organisations. Yet, there’s less human capacity for change than there’s been for years, decades perhaps. And our ability to change fundamentally relates to our capacity for change, the human capacity to connect, disconnect and reconnect over and over again. It is not something that can be addressed with an extra dash of creative engagement and excellent learning.
Why? Here’s why:
Advances in neurological understanding make it clear that human ability to engage with change (well, frankly, with anything much) is impacted by factors such as anxiety, stress, and fatigue (Arnsten, 2015)
Specifically, anxiety, fatigue, stress, and trauma reduce both resilience and something called ‘attentional capacity’ – our ability to engage with something, to pay attention to it. (Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform, 2021)
There’s abundant evidence as we emerge from a Covid-dominated landscape that we are stressed, fatigued and anxious to a significantly greater extent than we were in early March 2020 (COVID’s mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression, 2021)
So, that being the case, there just is less capacity for change in our organisations at a time when the pace of change continues to accelerate. (Peter Diamandis: ‘In the next 10 years, we’ll reinvent every industry’, 2021)
If our change methodologies and toolkits incorporated ways to both assess and address our sense of
calm, wellbeing and ‘psychological safety’ (which underpins capacity and ultimately performance)
we'd be OK – but they don’t. And trying to address a capacity issue with better engagement, fuller communication, and more accessible learning is like trying to get two litres of water into a one litre container by heating the water. It’s not going to happen.
So, what do we need to do? We’ll talk about that in our next blog and also our upcoming webinar on 22nd June. To secure your place sign up here. Sign up to the page you're reading this on to be notified when the next blog is posted.
Arnsten, A., 2015. Stress weakens prefrontal networks: molecular insults to higher cognition. Nature Neuroscience, 18(10), pp.1376-1385.
The Guardian. 2021. Peter Diamandis: ‘In the next 10 years, we’ll reinvent every industry’. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/25/peter-diamandis-future-faster-think-interview-ai-industry> [Accessed 12 May 2021].
Nature.com. 2021. COVID’s mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression. [online] Available at: <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00175-z> [Accessed 12 May 2021].
Harvard Business Review. 2021. Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform. [online] Available at: > [Accessed 12 May 2021].
Raichle, M., 2015. The Brain's Default Mode Network. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 38(1), pp.433-447.
Deborah Hulme is founder of the Neuroleader Academy™ and Minerva Engagement, consultants and practitioners of applied neuroscience for high performance and wellbeing. Her passion for leadership and organisational wellbeing has been fuelled by a career in which she’s been instrumental in delivering sustainable change and engagement strategies across multi-national organisations. Deborah works hand in hand with organisations to deliver high performance and to create environments in which trust and wellbeing flourish.
For more about Minerva Engagement, please visit www.minervaengagement.com