Understanding Individual Behaviour and Change
Individuals – employees - are the foundation of an organisation. Their behaviours drive the organisation’s behaviour. To change peoples’ behaviour we need to understand how a person’s attitudes, personality, perceptions and learning influence his or her behaviour.
A person’s attitude is primarily their ‘set’ toward or against certain things. Statements such as “I like my job’ are expressions of attitude. Attitudes contribute to motivation and influence how people perceive events or others.
A person’s personality is a combination of psychological traits that person, made up of traits like quiet, loud, passive, aggressive etc.
A person’s attitudes and personality influence a person’s perception of something. Perceptions may be correct or incorrect. It is how the individual interprets something to give it meaning eg as threatening. A person’s motivation – the want to do something – feeds perceptions and in turn fed by how a person perceives something as good or bad for example.
Learning is a relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a result of an experience. People’s perception influence their learning and in turn, learning, such as finding out something is not threatening, influences their perception. Learning also affects a person’s ability to achieve.
Learning, motivation, perception and ability all impact how an individual behaves.
How do we go about Changing Behaviour
When we consider the reasons why people resist change and for why they behave as they do, there a number of strategies and tactics that can be used to get people to change. These are explained below.
Education and communication
Educating employees on the benefits or logic of the change can help reduce resistance, assuming that the resistance lies in misinformation or poor communication. Communications can be achieved through one to one and group discussions, presentations and memos and reports. Most successful major change programs have comprehensive communication strategies to ensure employee understand the why and how of the change program. Consider however your own involvement here. What would be the outcome if your organisation were implementing a new customer service program or a participative leadership style and you did not model the behaviours required? Simply, you can ‘talk the talk’ as much and as often as necessary but if you do not match the talk with the correct behaviours employees will not make the change. “Do as I say not what I do’ does not work.
It is hard to resist change if one has been involved in the decision making for that change. Prior to a change happening employees can be consulted and contribute to the decision. Their involvement can reduce resistance, build commitment and increase the quality of the outcome. This approach does take time that may not always be available and while employee contributions should be valued these do not have to be accepted.
Potential resistance to change can be reduced through negotiation. Trade offs can be negotiated and inducements to change agreed. The change manager should be aware of potential costs and the setting of precedents that may have wider implications.
Manipulation and Cooptation
Manipulation is hidden attempts to influence people through doing such things as withholding undesirable information, twisting or distorting facts to make them appear more attractive, and creating false rumours. Similarly, a threat to close down the business unless employees accept a new award is an example of open manipulation. Cooptation seeks to 'buy off' the resisters to change by giving them a key role in the change program, 'if you can't beat tem join them" in reverse. Both manipulation and cooption can have success but do nothing about ensuring long-term change, and can actually backfire and increase resistance when employees become aware of what has happened.
"I'll do this, unless you do that!' Coercion is the use of direct threats or force to overcome resistance to change. A real threat, such as to close the business unless employees do what management wants, is coercion. Threats to give poor performance appraisals, transfer the individual, or reduce the employees' hours of work for casual staff unless management gets its way are also tactics of coercion. Threats do work – on occasion when the threat and reasons behind it are real and should not be discounted as an option. But carrots get more results than hitting employees with a stick.
As in any plan options must be considered before the best option is selected. The best option is possibly as combination of options. As an example, when a company is threatened with closure because of real reasons, and the manager uses a coercion as a tactic to overcome resistance, it can be supported with negotiation and participation as supporting tactics. The smart manager may have already decided that the lat two were the preferred tactics and used the threat tactic to initiate a reason for change.
Specialists with technical expertise often manage change projects. Some 80% of technical change projects, such as the implementation of new enterprise wide systems, either fail or are under-utilised through lack of attention to people issues.
A national bank introduced a new information system but failed to adequately prepare their employees for the change. As a result the employees could not handle customers and the result was customer outrange that impacted not only the image of the company but employee morale. A state government recently implemented a major change in shared services with the motto "Business as Usual ' and then, as tends to happen is major projects, changed how business was done. Employees both resisted the changes and suffered loss of motivation and as a consequence performance. The motto became the theme of resistance. The point from both these examples evidence one issue: people change and people preparedness for change expertise should be a crucial part of any change process that involves people. Technical specialists are not enough!