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Are you struggling to get people on board when it comes to embracing change in your organization? If you’re nodding your head you’re not alone. In fact, studies continue to suggest that up to 70 percent of attempts end in failure. So how can you work with people’s brains to make change easier? 

“Context is critical in understanding how you can take organizations forward,” explained Garry Davis, a positive psychology and organizational development thought leader, when I interviewed him recently. “Every organization has its own unique history and culture, and within this, teams have their own subcultures, and individuals have different motivations for their response to changes.”  

For example, Davis explained that when you work in a positive culture where your abilities are acknowledged and valued, your sense of worth is high and you are more likely to experience an upward spiral of wellbeing that will help you engage, contribute and continue to perform throughout a change process. However, when you don’t feel psychologically safe in your team and secure enough to speak up or take risks, then change can feel like a real threat.    

As a result of the organizational and team cultures, and the presence or absence of well-being and psychological safety, when it comes to embracing change Garry suggests that much like Roger’s classic diffusion of innovation curve people tend to fall into the following categories: 

  • The early adopters who are intrinsically motivated to help drive changes because their values align closely with your organization’s, have a high level of trust in what you’re doing and feel committed to supporting the organization’s efforts even if that requires discretionary effort.  
  • The early majority who are curious and interested but whose buy-in only happens when a peer can prove to them the benefits of the change.    
  • The late majority who are skeptical and only motivated to join in the change when they’re convinced of the benefits to them personally, as opposed to the organization or to others around them.  
  • The laggards, whose overt or covert negativity causes them to actively undermine any good the change may bring. 

So how can you meet the needs of these different groups of employees to take them on the change journey? 

  • Create a committed core: By offering development programs that are voluntary and open to anyone. This way you’re more likely to attract and engage the early adopters rather than those who reluctantly participate because they’ve been tapped on the shoulders or feel it’s compulsory. Over time you can expand this group and include the early majority so that you build an incredibly potent community of people with great drive, shared skills and knowledge to keep your efforts alive. 
     
  • Make it personal: By sharing personal success stories that demonstrate the personal benefits and evidence of the positive organizational intent for the change, the caution, and skepticism of the late majority can be overcome. Make it clear what’s in it for them and that the change is being managed in a way that is designed to help them individually and the organization collectively. 
     
  • Re-build psychological safety: Demonstrating that you really care for those who are responding to change as the laggards can help improve trust and engagement. It’s important to appreciate that nobody really wants to be a laggard, but often these employees have had experiences in the organization that left them feeling ignored, knocked around or knocked back and so have stopped trying to be fit in or be supportive. If you want to re-engage them you need to make the time to understand what’s happened, can it be corrected and then actively seek to either manage them in or out. When they feel they are recognized and belong, and it’s psychologically safe for them to air their opinions, they will be more likely to stop undermining the changes being created.   

What can you do to encourage more early adopters of positive change in your workplace

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