Think about this scenario: your organisation is implementing new project management software
Here are two possible reactions:
- a) “This change is ridiculous, the old system worked perfectly fine, the new system will require so much learning all so we can continue to track projects. I’ll have to spend a whole day offline doing the mandatory training – what a waste of my time!!”
- b) “This change is one of continual improvement. Yes, the old system works fine, but the new system has wonderful capability and is really at the forefront of technology in the project management space. It will require a fair amount of training but it’s really encouraging that the organisation is investing in my learning and our technology systems!”
These perceptions both come from the same scenario yet they are vastly different. Reaction A is quite unhelpful to the change initiative, whereas reaction B could be considered a change champion.
What we can often forget when implementing organisational change is that change requires shifting mindsets as well as shifting behaviours. This requires leaders to understand employee perceptions around the change in order to address any unhelpful beliefs around a change, moving individuals towards the adoption of an initiative.
Perceptions as Reality
Our perceptions are our realities. Perceptions and beliefs are informed by our interactions with the world. We gather data from the world and use this to inform our beliefs and future expectations.
Perception is a cognitive process where the brain tries to simplify and mentally organises stimuli, resulting in assumed truths. Our personality, past experiences, emotional state, heritage, cognitive functions, and gender all combine to form our perceptions, which become the lens through which we see the world.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying ‘rose coloured glasses’; it’s like that in the sense that we each have a pair of glasses with the lenses informed by our interaction with the world. As a result, our perceptions are not necessarily consistent with others’ perceptions or consistent with reality.
In the space of organisational change, this can mean that where one person perceives the change to be exciting and engaging, another could perceive it to be a time-waster and useless, as shown by the example above. Leaders have the opportunity to influence employees’ perceptions of a change. Leaders can therefore assist employees to establish helpful beliefs around a change, but also to shift already existing unhelpful beliefs around change.
How can managers shift unhelpful beliefs around change?
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”
― Wayne W. Dyer
- - Managers can use reframing to shift how employees perceive a change. Reframing involves taking a belief, questioning it, and changing the language around that belief
- - Question the employee’s belief to understand their perceptions
- - Respectfully challenge the belief to cast doubt on the employee’s belief (e.g. “is missing one day of work to learn about the new system really a terrible thing?”)
- - Encourage positive thinking and help the employee to see the positives of the change: e.g., “is the new project management system really that bad? What are some good aspects of it?” or “the new system will help us to be more productive which will mean bigger bonuses at the end of the year”
- - Focus on the end user of the change. For example “the new project management system will mean that customers can track the progress of their project”
“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” ― Aldous Huxley
- - Our perceptions are made from what data is available to us, so ensure you provide your employees with all relevant data about the change
- - Clear, open and honest communication is essential throughout a change process
- - When communicating, ensure you emphasise the ‘why’ of the change. Why is the change needed? What will its benefits be? What does it mean for employees? Answering these questions will help employees to have helpful beliefs around the change
“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, "What else could this mean?”
― Shannon L. Alder
- - Empower employees to ask ‘what does this mean?’ So they have a clear understanding of what is required of them and the specifics about the change
- - But also provide them with enough information to form these conclusions themselves. Be open with the benefits of the change and as mentioned before, communicate the ‘why’ of the change.
Sometimes employee’s unhelpful beliefs about a change can play the role of devil’s advocate. Their perceptions around a change may point out a potential flaw or consequence that needs to be addressed. So while it is indeed important to shift employee’s unhelpful beliefs, spend time to understand their perception to ensure that all risks are mitigated.
Open communication and coaching employees to reframe will help to align perceptions of a change, making sure everyone is wearing similar glasses, viewing the change through similar lenses.
For more information on how to lead employees through change please contact us on 07 3003 1473 (Australia) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.