Human beings don’t like change. At best, or worst, we tolerate it as an imposition on our existence. The majority of us prefer to live in the shadows of doing things the way that we know works – “business as usual”. In fact, most of us spend our entire lives trying to create an environment of perfect comfort and satisfaction with the lowest possibility of discomfort, change or challenges.

In direct contradiction to this, is the fact that we are also a “seeking” species. We are constantly questioning, improving and growing new ideas. Nature in actual fact also requires us to move all the time and even, dare I say it, continually evolve. If we remain static though and resist change, we experience disease, dissatisfaction with our environment and even decay. This creates inner conflict within us that result in natural tension. On the one hand we want things to be better, different and more – but on the other hand we resist the very change and the requirement to get out of our comfort zone to achieve those desired results. This is especially true in business…

For the past 200 years, and even more so today, business has been pushing and testing boundaries, demanding more and being more than it ever had been before. Because of growing stakeholder expectations, businesses are challenged to be more; become more innovative and being more effective whilst delivering greater customer experience, with value for money and profitability. As a result of this, the modern day workforce is being challenged to embrace change, even faster than their companies. In practise, this implies that people are repeatedly required to grow their abilities and expand their own boundaries by shifting out of their comfort zone more frequently – against their preferred choice.

This type of innovation demands businesses to strategise, design and implement new systems to meet growth expectations. Such efforts continue to be largely process driven and of course we commonly know this as ‘Change Management.’ In most instances, considerations in Change Management or Organisational Development for the internal human interface, and their relationships to new systems/processes, inevitably focuses more on skills development and process orientation/alignment than on managing or even working with the “out of the comfort zone” experience that people have.

What really lies behind the resistance to Organisational Change.

Change or evolution is perceived very differently depending upon who initiates it, how it is engaged, and a perception of who gains or loses by it – or who is affected by it. Even when people choose to engage in change, and willingly see the excitement of “new possibilities;” they face uncertainty, anxiety and fear of failure attached to change. When change is imposed on people by another, an impersonal “outside” force, i.e. management, then the uncertainty, anxiety, fear and resistance soar to intensity levels approaching that of aggression (active or passive resistance).

Under these circumstances, people resist change by the typical intense and instinctive “fight” or “flight” reactions that are common to all animals when faced with severe threats to their basic safety and security. This is in fact largely triggered by subtle, ego-driven reactions to circumstances that do not agree with the individual concerned. For example, the “survival” reactions of fear about risk to one’s job, income, personal status among peers and basic lifestyle security. The change sparks deep fear of the unknown; it is seen as a life-threat to everything important in one’s life and the human “fight” or “flight” reaction is subsequently triggered.

Considering where the world is headed, modern business require their leaders to approach Change Management or Organisational Development, as well as their people, and their relationships to these ever moving/morphing resources differently. Because everything around us is changing so fast, so frequently, we as modern human beings are being challenged to change and get out of our comfort zone more and more often too. This means that our resistance to change is triggered over and over, our “fight” or “flight” mechanism is engaged at a far higher frequency than normally. This in turn only fuels a stronger or more sustained resistance to change than ever before. If we, as leaders, are not cognisant of this, then who we are being as leaders, is insufficient to achieve the results that we commit to.

What is required of us is instead, is to review our approach to our people, our approach to change. Most importantly, we should reconsider what our own relationship is to both, including our approach to our people’s approach to change.

How a Conscious leader would initiate Change Management or OD.

The first thing to do as a leader embarking on change, is to really get that pulling everyone into a Boardroom to solicit their “buy-in”, or “onboarding” them only, is not going to get the result you had in mind. Just skills development and training aren’t good enough either. A good second step is to fully face, embrace and integrate all the challenges relating to change. Some of them are:

  • Resistance to collaboration (top-down management that separates the visionaries from those most impacted by the change;.
  • Support (buy-in and resource alignment to the project;.
  • Commitment (follow through and implementation by people in the business;.
  • Leadership (the ability to achieve clarity of moving beyond the project in an inclusive manner);
  • Change (shift out of the comfort zone for all stakeholders);
  • Process focus (limited scope of holistic impact);
  • Perception of relevance (lack of clarity of vision, and communication to all stakeholders);
  • Time (duration of roll-out and impact of resistance to the change on expected duration; and.
  • Progress assessment and measurement (limited upfront clarity on detailed milestones, goals and achievements – moving objectives).

Creating the desired circumstances for change begins with the leader him/herself.

To create a different result, Modern leaders, Conscious Leaders, who are engaged in Organisational Change, should be aware of all of the above, and should be committed to doing things differently. What we should be looking at, is not what “we know” to be the answer. On the contrary, we are required to set aside all preconceptions, theory and knowledge. This requires us to get out of our own comfort zone first, face our fear of this and engage the unknown from a perspective of open, genuine curiosity as to how to walk the journey with our team.

Practically this could be achieved through a series of questions for self-reflection and if you’re courageous enough, even sharing and engaging with your team where they are at. A Conscious approach to Change includes questions formulated around some of the following themes: Leadership, Communication, Dropping assumption, Collaboration, Recognition. The questions or reflections could look something like this:

“Getting where I am at”
  • How am I being that is disempowering in this change process?
  • What would need to shift in me to get my team to choose to engage differently?
  • What resistance am I carrying in relation to them and this change?
  • Am I being an accelerator of change or a foot on the brake?
“Getting where they are at”
  • What is their perspective of the risks involved?
  • What will the impact of the change be on them?
  • What is their perspective on what this change means?
“Building Vision”
  • What is their perspective on what success would look like?
  • What would inspire them to choose to engage in this change?
  • What would total inclusivity look like?
  • How does my vision fit in with their own vision?
““Behaviour shift””
  • What perspective or resistance could I let go of in order to empower?
  • What can I acknowledge and share about what is working?
  • How can I be more empowering?
  • How can I communicate more openly with my people?
  • What would they need to have in place in order to choose to engage better/ differently?
  • What would be a stretch that is only around 20% out of their comfort zone?

Why 20% out of the comfort zone?

So what’s this business about a 20% stretch out of the comfort zone? Let me explain… The problem with stretching anyone out of their comfort zone is that the most of us tend to choose one of two options. The first is to avoid it. This is standard operating procedure for our ego not wanting to expose itself to the risk of change, failure, judgement and all of those unsettling experiences detailed above. The second is to over stretch beyond our honest capabilities. This ultimately leads to failure or unsustainable execution of the required commitment.

A useful way of dealing with this is by determining what would be a 20% stretch out of their comfort zone, aiming for that as a short-term objective, and then reviewing that once it is reached. This subsequently sets in motion a progressive approach to systematic achievement of goals in a sustainable and non-threatening way.

By engaging in this type of interacting, transacting and empowerment of our people we provoke a different effect. Never more appropriate than now, is the quote by Albert Einstein: “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.” Keeping Einstein’s quote in mind, if we look at a more Conscious approach to Change Management, then what we have is the ability to shift people out of their comfort zones with minimal triggering of their resistance, and their “fight” or “flight” mechanisms.

By meeting people where they are at; we get to understand the personal relationships that the people in our teams have to the possible change. We enjoy the opportunity to then handle the change process in a manner that not only trains them with the required skills, but also empowers them to choose to be inclusive and participative –even supportive. Now that is real, sustainable, Change Management or Organisational Development!