Humans need time and space in order to adapt to change. When learning new skills or practices, we have to give up habits for new and unfamiliar ways of doing and the adjustment causes discomfort. Adapting to change is a psychological process involving letting go of the old, accepting and adjusting to the new, learning new habits – and this demands conscious attention and energy.
Why is change so difficult?
Unforeseen and unwanted situations often arise with major change initiatives. The changes wanted are task focused with resource requirements specified to achieve required results. Seldom do plans bring in time and space for human adjustments or what is required of human relationships to make the plans work. The consequence is that diligent people, despite their best will and application, can feel frustrated and worn down by a system which they feel unable to influence. They often end up railing against it, resisting. Of course, nobody plans this type of situation, so how does it happen?
What happens when organisations grow?
Larger, more complex organisations face the challenge of coordinating multiple interactions across the workplace. Top down design involving many task related processes and procedures, requiring compliance and adherence to task, can lead to the human dimension being diminished. Size and scale play an important role in helping people function effectively. The feeling of being a small cog in a machine bureaucracy impacts negatively on the human psyche.
Operating in uncertain and changing environments adds to the problem. This brings more, dynamic, complexity, which has emergent qualities so that regardless of best laid plans and intentions, unexpected things happen, be it due to timing, luck or synchronicity. In all of this people can get forgotten.
The trust and self esteem that develops in effective relationships becomes the missing factor. In order to function optimally people need to feel they belong, that they matter. For their wellbeing they need to know that they are valued and through their work they are contributing to something, making a difference. Otherwise work becomes dehumanised and meaningless, which affects motivation and performance.
Managing the internal environment.
How can managers create an environment where people feel valued, able to grow and fulfil their potential? Most organisations say they want to empower staff to take responsibility for some decision making. They understand that they cannot rely soley on top down command and control management styles. Empowerment is about the ability to think, identify and solve problems, work with what’s available and make decisions. The balance between achieving compliance, adherence to rules and procedures, and achieving more self management, requires higher levels of management skill around the workplace environment. It requires of managers creating an environment where people can flourish. It means in particular creating an atmosphere, a prevailing mood, tone and way of doing things where people feel able to, and are willing to give of their best.
Lessons from smaller sized companies
It is not inevitable that large organisations become populated with tired, frustrated or demotivated individuals. It is through understanding people and effective leadership that a vibrant workplace, where people want to be is created.
People matter and it is through people that change happens. Smaller entrepreneurial companies can offer lessons when they have a clear sense of purpose, motivated staff who are prepared to take risks, or if they make mistakes they are quick to learn and adapt.
Entrepreneurial companies are not magicians; their success comes from inspiration, sweat, perseverance, resourcefulness and hard work. They are adept at providing people with a sense of worthwhile purpose. They offer lessons in how to support people to learn to help themselves. The challenge for larger organisations is finding of adpating to change that allows for ways of nurturing and nourishing the dynamism, optimism and sense of purpose that smaller enterprises naturally have.