unhappy businessman

Research has shown that 70 percent of organizational change efforts fail. Lack of support from across the organization is a major cause for this daunting statistic.

Without support, big ideas don’t take hold — or have the desired impact.

You need buy-in to make organizational change happen, especially when building support for a new technology initiative. This is a timely challenge as the internet, big data and other tools have made markets increasingly competitive, pushing many organizations to adopt new technology to remain relevant. 

These initiatives can seem like obvious solutions to the decision makers, but it’s not always easy to get everyone on board. 

A change management approach based in neuroscience called “NeuroLeadership” helps engage the hearts and minds of those who need to change. They will not only be able to accept the solution, they will be willing to accept it.

Why People Resist Change

If your boss told you to rearrange your desk items and gave no explanation, how would you react? Though an apparently minuscule request, most people’s immediate reaction would be to resist or question the demand. 

Our brains tend to react negatively to change. According to social neuroscience researchers, the reason lies in human evolution. Our human ancestors depended as much on social belonging for survival as they did on food and shelter. Poor social standing — on both an individual and group basis — can actually lead to a higher mortality rate.

When a person’s social environment changes, it challenges his sense of stability (or more specifically, his brain’s). If the brain decides the change is, in fact, threatening, then it will resist or avoid the change as much as possible — going into “fight or flight” mode.

Though the workplace is often perceived as a logical, transaction-based environment, it is still occupied by humans — and we humans are emotional beings. When leaders drive some kind of change in the organization, they must consider the impact it will have on their people.

It’s no surprise that people resist organizational change — they are overworked and overburdened, and simply don’t have the bandwidth to embrace something new. Further, they rely on habits and routines to help them meet their own work demands, and so change — particularly when it comes to technology that disrupts those habits and routines, forcing them to engage in new, active and energy-demanding ways — appears highly undesirable. 

Building Positive Momentum for Change 

Many times, leaders don’t articulate an opportunity for their organization and then communicate it widely. When they do, they’re often shocked to see how quickly changes start happening. 

Offering people a choice motivates commitment to change far more than telling them it's required. It engages people who are passionate about making their organization better, harnesses their enthusiasm and empowers them to drive change.

A few tactics have emerged which effectively build momentum around a project and increase a sense of ownership amongst all employees:

  • User groups — regular meet ups can offer staff an opportunity to brainstorm project ideas, share successes and challenges and build a culture of support
  • Lunch-and-learn workshops — similar to user groups, these structured meet ups provide an opportunity to demonstrate the solution in question, field any questions or concerns staff members may have and increase comfort levels with the change
  • Internal marketing — who says case studies are only for external customers? Internal promotion of successes recognizes the hard work being done, can inspire ideas on how to repeat those successes in other departments and reinforces the positive differences the project is making within the organization

Questions to Ask Before Beginning a Change Initiative

An effective strategy for creating change requires several elements, but one of the most important is to convince people to alter their attitudes — to move from rejection to openness, at least, or embrace the change effort, at best. If you can create change in people’s attitudes, it’s much easier to change their behavior.

Think of any attitude on a continuum from pro to con. Depending on where your attitude lies along the continuum, you're willing to entertain other views, but only within a narrow range around your own attitude — this range is the latitude of acceptance, or the “OK zone.”

This is crucial: When attitudes stray too far from our OK zone, people not only don’t buy them — they actively retrench against them, marshaling all of their resources to oppose the person making the argument. If you want to change someone’s attitude, first you need to understand where that person’s OK zone is. Do this by asking questions to identify where they are on the attitude continuum right now.

Like any change effort, effective use of this approach requires some planning. Just as with today's marketing, sending email blasts and trying to convert the entire organization at once won't work. Carefully target selected individuals in ways tailored specifically for them. 

Ask yourself the following questions before taking any steps towards change:

  • What is this particular stakeholder’s current attitude about the proposed change?
  • What are the small steps that will take this particular person from his current attitude to where you need him to be?
  • Can you enlist “evangelists” to advocate the change instead of carrying the water by yourself?
  • How much change do you require from each person? Does she need to come around entirely to embrace your view? Or is it sufficient to move her OK zone closer toward you, without getting all the way there?

Writes Gartner Research Director Elise Olding, “We fear what we don’t understand. It feels ‘safer’ to stay in a place that is uncomfortable, than to move towards an unknown state. Increasing the certainty of what the end-state looks like can decrease this fear. It’s not necessary to get into all the details, but frame the journey from where people are today to where they will be tomorrow.”

For every technology initiative, success is determined by how effectively people adopt and embrace the change to how they do their jobs. With a clear idea of who needs to change what, you’re better equipped to figure out appropriate steps to take to encourage adoption.