Using behavioral science to help employees adjust to change

Using behavioral science to help employees adjust to change

Leaders promoting change in their organizations often encounter roadblocks and employee resistance. Gagen MacDonald’s proprietary research provides the most recent and pointed confirmation of a trend many leaders understand intuitively: change fatigue is real and pervasive. (Our transformation infographic offers illuminating statistics about this new reality.) By nature, people will fight to maintain consistency. But with massive disruption across industries, change has become a necessary part of the day-to-day work life for organizations to survive.

Behaviorally, we can help our teams adjust to change more easily. By facilitating the process and presenting information in a new way, leaders can help teams approach change and business transformation with a more open mindset. If used responsibly, behavioral science can ease discomfort and increase efficiency for all parties.

How can you motivate an innately anti-change group to shift their behavior? By taking their psychological needs into consideration.

  1. Find common ground. In some cases, employees find it difficult to relate to executives and leaders at their company. Leaders who can uncover commonalities between themselves and employees are more likely to influence their behavior. The closer the tie you can establish with the person, the more likely you will be able to persuade them that your path is worth following. That said, actions always speak louder than words. Leaders still need to model the behavior they wish to see in the company to prompt lasting change.
  2. Leverage the “convert communicator.” The convert communicator is someone who used to be resistant to change, but then recognized the value and necessity of conversion. Because this person shared views with the target audience, people can better relate to their story and find common ground with them more easily. Change-resistant employees are more open-minded regarding change in conversations with people that used to be “like them.” When convert communicators engage in conversation with employees and give them the chance for understanding, employees are more likely to behave differently. For the target audience, the convert communicator proves that change is possible and worthwhile, and they can blur the lines between two groups with opposing views and enable communication through difficult situations. This is why employee advocates are essential to any change management.
  3. Promote pro-social behavior change. Time and time again, researchers have proven that giving time or money to a cause or a person increases happiness for the giver. Similarly, people are more invested and motivated when doing something for the greater good. When working for a pro-social reason, employees feel intrinsically motivated. To leverage this tendency, incentivize change by connecting the desired behavior with the company’s larger purpose. (This Gagen valentine shows how purpose can spark the love among employees and fuel bottom-line results.) You might even offer a charity donation in the name of the team to an organization that most often displays the desired behavior. Through structuring behavior change programs to promote pro-social behavior, employees can connect that behavior to the greater good and higher purpose of their work. They become more inclined to change their ways as a result.

Leading through change isn’t easy; in fact, our cognitive biases can derail leaders in many instances. But those same biases can be harnessed for good, too. By understanding people’s decision-making processes, leaders can more effectively work with their teams to transform the organization from the inside out.