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August 8, 2022

4 strategies to help employees 'feel secure' during organizational change

Daily Briefing

    Many leaders struggle to implement change, often wishing their change efforts "could go a little faster, encounter less pushback, and produce more novel and sustainable outcomes." Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Deborah Rowland, Nicole Brauckmann, and Michael Thorley detail four strategies to help leaders "skillfully attend to people's most primal need to feel secure in disruptive contexts."

    Deborah Rowland has personally directed organizational change at large corporations, including Shell, Gucci Group, BBC Worldwide, and PepsiCo, and conducted original research in the field. Nicole Brauckmann helps organizations and individuals create conditions to successfully enact change as an executive and consultant. Michael Thorley works as an accountant, psychotherapist, executive psychological coach, and coach supervisor.

    The importance of 'belonging'

    According to the authors, "belonging" refers to a "survival-based belonging that enables any human infant to make it to adulthood and any human adult to fully function in collective settings they give loyalty to and receive identity from." Change poses a threat to this type of belonging.

    In the authors' research, the top 12% of successful change stories included leaders who were especially mindful of belonging. According to the authors, this type of attention "meant leading with two counterintuitive moves."

    "On the one hand, these leaders took great care and time to make others feel secure, involved, and attached to meaningful work," the authors note. "On the other hand, these leaders also recognized that change requires 'un-belonging,'" which includes improving others' ability to detach from past habits and being able to distance oneself from a strong group of beliefs to develop new solutions.

    Ultimately, "excessive belonging impedes new futures," the authors add.

    4 ways leaders can help employees 'feel secure' during organizational change

    According to the authors, there are four strategies leaders can use to find balance on the "belonging/un-belonging tight rope and skillfully attend to people's most primal need to feel secure in disruptive contexts."

    1. Monitor your own emotions.

    Even leaders can have their sense of belonging threatened during organizational change. "This physiologically impacts the prefrontal cortex as the seat of decision making and the ability to move from reactive impulse ... to intentional and creative response," the authors write. 

    According to the authors, this type of neurochemical disruption can impact a person's capacity to make decisions, process information, and form plans. "That's why it's vital for leaders to master a skill we call 'being before doing': tuning into and regulating one's own mental and emotional reactions to experiences," the authors add.

    2. Determine what people are trying to preserve (and why).

    "Look beyond what seems like resistance to or an inability to change and perceive what people treasure and protect," the authors write. "It will enable you to address and challenge deep loyalties with insight and respect."

    3. Have difficult conversations.

    To help team members see what needs to change—and why it needs to change—leaders must "lead conversations that explore their discomfort and help them see that as a necessary change companion," the authors write.

    4. Weigh 'the prize and the price of change.'

    Ultimately, every significant organizational change comes with a price tag. "And because they're human, leaders tend to overestimate the benefits and downplay the costs," the authors note. "When you name and work with both, you can build true belonging, not false loyalty." (Rowland et al., Harvard Business Review, 8/4)

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