The Psychology of Organizational Change

23 Aug

Interesting article on Psychology Today addressing the topic of organisational change, and entitled The Psychology of Organizational Change. I’ve quoted the conclusion from this article below in full

Traditional change in management tactics in organizations are based more on animal training than on human psychology and neuroscience. Leaders promise bonuses and promotions (the carrot) for those who go along with the changes, and punish those (the stick) who don’t with less important jobs or even job loss. This kind of managerial behavior flies in the face of evidence that shows that people’s primary motivation in the workplace is neither money or advancement but rather a personal interest in their jobs, a good environment to work in and fulfilling relationships with their boss and colleagues” Article available here

It’s difficult to argue with the logic of the conclusions. Evidence does clearly suggest that meaning, social interaction and a good environment are the most important workplace considerations for staff. However, the job of change is never done. The external environment changes jobs which had so much meaning, people who mean so much move on, and revenue can impact on offices which everyone enjoyed working in. So even successful organisational change, is simply a point on a continuum, and never done.

The above point highlights the importance of leaders and planners staying in frequent touch with frontline workers. This is important because not only is change an ongoing process, a way of life which can be too often left to chance in organisations, but human beings are notoriously poor at anticipating how much positive and negative change will impact upon their lives in the medium to long run (Kahneman, 2011, Wilson et al, 2003).

The consequence is that short term data on success can show very positive attitudes towards change, and then once adaption kicks in, the data can look like a decline in satisfaction. The two key points are 1) try and avoid declaring change as complete or a success too soon, and 2) leaders should stay in frequent touch with frontline workers to monitor adaptions. Otherwise the gap between implementation and feedback can cause inaccurate responses, for example

This data shows a sharp fall in satisfaction, we need to review the effect of our change strategy

Everyone has just adapted to change, it’s only natural that it’s no longer seen as something significant

Both these points require accurate feedback data to back them up, otherwise what’s really going on is lost.

We’ve written about the above points here and here in more detail

Reading

Wilson, Timothy D.; Daniel T. Gilbert (2003). “Affective Forecasting”. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 35: 345–411

Kahneman, D (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/the-psychology-organizational-change

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