How do we make change more likely to succeed?
What conditions do we need to create to help people embrace change? What can we do to increase the likelihood of success with any workplace changes?
If we can increase the amount of positive emotions people have, this will make people more broad-minded, and more ready to try new things, which is often described as work engagement. And when engagement is low, we get change fatigue.
Let’s look at some of the ways we can increase engagement at work to reduce or avoid issues with change fatigue, and enable us to make effective organisational change.
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The ideal conditions for change
Hi, Andrew from SACS.
And welcome to video number four in our six video series about change, particularly the psychology of change.
And in this series so far, we’ve talked to you about what the new normal is likely to be.
We’ve talked to you about what psychologically change actually is, how it affects the brain.
We’ve talked to you a lot about the reasons that different people seem to welcome or reject change.
And now what we’re going to talk to you about is the preconditions of change, a thing called change fatigue.
And what is it that causes people to be ready to change?
The “broaden and build” theory
This is the theory of a psychologist called Barbara Frederickson (refer to the video). It’s the broaden and build theory.
And the idea of the broaden and build theory is that people are much more prepared to embrace things that are new or challenging or original if they have positive emotions.
As we increase the amount of positive emotions that we have, we become more broad-minded.
And in fact, what happens is that we become literally more ready to try new things, literally more welcoming of new ideas, literally more prepared to change.
The opposite is also sadly true.
When a person slips into depression, you may well find that they stop going to work. They stop going out. Maybe eventually, if the depression gets serious enough, they stop getting out of bed.
Depression is very debilitating in the sense that it causes people to, in effect, pull their horizons in and focus much more on the internal.
So the broaden and build theory says that as a person experiences increasing amounts of positive emotions, they broaden their perspectives, but that allows them to build a platform of new skills and confidence which will allow them to further broaden and then further build.
So the broaden and build theory is kind of like an upward virtuous spiral which causes people to have higher levels of wellbeing.
Positive emotions = work engagement
So the idea of positive emotions at work is often described as work engagement.
And the idea of work engagement is where people possess three really important characteristics.
This was defined by Bakker in 2011 as a result of a very significant meta-analysis that was undertaken into work engagement findings across the world.
So people are energetic and try hard at work. They are enthused by their work, they get involved in their work – energy.
Second is dedication.
That’s where people think that their work is significant, they think it’s important, they try hard to improve, to be able to do their work. That’s the second characteristic.
And the third characteristic is a kind of a version of what at an individual level we would call flow.
A flow state is where people get happily engrossed in what they do, they get immersed in what they do.
And when they’re like this, this combination of the clock seeming to race by, finding that time doesn’t drag.
But if you can get into this state, it’s very good for you. People who are in flow states, tend to be happier, tend to be in fact, physically and psychologically more well.
They tend to get through more work and they tend to do very good work.
So it’s one of those areas where the benefit for the individual is also the benefit for the organisation.
The impact of engagement at work
And in fact, that could be said of engagement generally.
One of the reasons I love engagement research and working with the topic of engagement is that if you can increase these three positive emotional states – vigour, dedication and absorption or flow – if you can increase that, it makes employees happier and more healthy.
But it also contributes to things like profitability, organisational growth, things like customer satisfaction.
So there is a really strong business case for engagement.
What is change fatigue?
Now let me tell you about change fatigue.
Change fatigue is almost invariably low levels of engagement.
So if you feel that your organisation is suffering from change fatigue, I would strongly recommend that you measure the levels of engagement using a validated engagement measurement tool to find out what they’re like.
Because when people have high levels of engagement, they are much more change-ready and much more flexible.
And as Barbara Frederickson would have indicated, not only do people end up being more broad-minded, but they end up building more skills because of that broad-mindedness.
So change fatigue is almost always low levels of engagement.
And if you can pump up the levels of engagement – and we’ll tell you some techniques for doing this – but if you can pump up the levels of engagement, then what will tend to happen is that you’ll have higher levels of change readiness and less levels of change fatigue.
The opposite of change fatigue
If engagement is high enough, you end up with an extremely positive situation called job crafting.
So the idea of job crafting is where people will spontaneously act to make their jobs better.
And what I mean by that is where people will stand back from their jobs. Instead of working in their jobs, they’ll work on their jobs.
Now obviously employees need to work in their jobs, but if employees never work on their jobs, they don’t improve anything and they tend to end up therefore grabbing the handle of the sausage machine and winding it.
And that’s not good for productivity and it’s not good for wellbeing.
If you have high enough levels of work engagement at work, what you’ll tend to find is that people will be much more likely to show the energy and confidence to stand back from their job and say, hey, we could do this better if we did this, or we could make this more satisfying for our customers if we did this.
So there’s an opportunity there to be more productive and to have higher levels of wellbeing, by virtue of having higher levels of work engagement.
The benefits of job crafting
Some positive characteristics of job crafting employees – they focus on outcomes rather than emotions.
I mean, really, in organisations you want people to focus on what needs to be done rather than to be telling each other how they feel all the time.
Sure, there’s room for some of that, but if you want to create a sense of optimism, what you do is you focus on outcomes and express confidence in being able to achieve those outcomes.
Secondly, when people are job crafting, they’ll build resources like cooperation, support, processes, systems, redesign their jobs to do them better, manage and proactively acquire the resources necessary, collaborate, which creates high morale and they can actually often increase their job demands.
In other words, the amount of work that’s necessary, because people having more initiatives at higher standards will do that.
But it’s a positive thing. This is positive stress and it will cause people to feel energised rather than drained.
Ways to increase engagement
Now, there are a range of positive psychology activities which can be used to increase levels of engagement.
Now, some of these activities are very short-term in the sense that you can do them very quickly and they will occasion increases in engagement.
But don’t be surprised if you do nothing else, that they will fall off again.
Sometimes what you need to do is prime the pumps of people’s engagement to the point where they then can engage in more long-term activities that will cause sustainable increases in engagement.
And if that’s the case, then you’ll have a decline in the levels of change fatigue in your organisation.
Focusing on the future
So one of them is about reducing focus on the past and concentrating on the future, making plans about how to get there.
You know, psychological research has indicated for decades that the happiest people with the highest levels of wellbeing are the ones that are engaged in the future.
They believe that a future can be created. Well, one of the really useful positive psychology activities that can be undertaken is to get people to focus on the future, not necessarily a two year future.
Maybe it’s as soon as this week, maybe it’s as soon as tomorrow. What are we looking forward to doing tomorrow?
Focus on what we want to achieve out of the next day, the next week, the next month, and then make plans about how to get there.
That’s a really good positive psychology activity because it causes people to feel confident that they can achieve the future that they’re looking for.
The Three Blessings
The second is a Martin Seligman one. This is called the Three Blessings.
And the idea of the three blessings is that, let’s say once a day, perhaps at night, you sit down and you write down the three things that you’re grateful for that happened in the past day.
Then when you wake up the next morning, you remind yourself of the three good things that happened to you the day before and you remind yourself that you’re going to do the same activity again.
This has been shown to be a very good developer of people’s levels of wellbeing, wellbeing being things like increased happiness, reduced anxiety, reduced depression.
But I recommend that you do this at a group level.
Why not get a group of people together, say, a project meeting and talk about, well, what were the good things that we achieved last week?
The Three Anticipations
The third is learned optimism exercises, such as three anticipations.
So the three blessings is what happened in the past that we’re grateful for. The three anticipations might be, let’s talk about what we’re looking forward to in the coming week.
We can make plans, as I mentioned in point number one, about pursuing these really worthwhile outcomes.
But now let’s talk about the things that we’re going to enjoy, the things that we can look forward to. That can increase levels of engagement.
Acts of generosity
Acts of generosity. We’re held to be in a very selfish age, that people seek to advantage themselves above all else.
And I think that that’s a human characteristic down through the centuries.
But human beings are also equipped to be incredibly generous. And generosity is not just good for the person who is the recipient of generosity.
Generosity is good for the individual who is generous. We know that people who are depressed, who undertake random acts of generosity, they increase their levels of wellbeing by doing so.
There’s a couple of really good reasons.
One, human beings like to be connected to other people, and being generous to other people is a method of connection.
But second, it’s powerful. When people do something generous for somebody else, they can’t be a victim. They can’t have no power in the world because generosity is, of its very nature, powerful.
The next one is signature strength exercises and the idea of signature strength exercises. This is, again, an area where Martin Seligman has done a lot of work.
Signature strength exercises is where we write down the strengths that are ours uniquely. What are we really good at?
Now thinking about and writing down those signature strengths increases our levels of psychological wellbeing, but then actually doing something about them, in other words, okay, I’m really good at this, and this is how I’m going to use this in my life in the future.
That can be a really powerful way of enduringly increasing levels of wellbeing, all of these activities can be undertaken on an individual basis, but you can see there’s no problem at all about getting a work group together and working on a signature strength exercise.
And the same with mindfulness activities.
Now, everybody knows about mindfulness. You’ve all got apps on your phones, Headspace, Smiling Mind, those kinds of things.
But mindfulness is not just about that meditation type activity. It’s also being broad-minded about explanations.
So if somebody does something to us, well, we can conclude that they did that because they don’t like us.
But a mindful approach to that kind of issue would be to say, well, maybe there are other reasons. Maybe they’re tired, maybe they’re responding to some stress in their work life right now.
Mindfulness activities are worthwhile, and I won’t go into it in great detail because there’s just so many sources of such activities, but being mindful about explanations causes people not to jump to the worst possible conclusion and that can increase the positive narrative in work.
Leading for change
And finally, forming collaborative work groups to work together to create an ideal future.
And in particular, we’ll talk about leadership for change later on.
And I’m going to advocate a very empowering style of leadership of change because that’s what works.
Now, if you create a collaborative work group and as a leader, you sponsor them to come up with their own solution and you back them. That’s one of the most powerful forms of change management that can be undertaken.
But it certainly will increase the levels of positive emotions, engagement figure, dedication and absorption in your workplace and that’s going to make sure that you don’t run into issues with change fatigue.
So we’ve covered these four topics so far in the sequence of videos that you’ve seen or that you had the opportunity to access and the next one will be about the neuroscience of change.
So I find that people are typically pretty fascinated by this stuff.
What actually goes on at the cortical level when change happens and what is it that happens when people become fearful of change or resistant to change?
So join us for the next video and we’ll explain that to you.
Watch the next video in this series to find out more about effective change management practices:
And watch the previous video here:
And if you’d like some help to measure the change resistance of your incoming recruits or the current engagement levels of your staff, contact us about our Employee Engagement Surveys.