How to help employees thrive through change
When planting a garden or field, we prepare the soil – tilling and fertilizing to increase the soil’s receptivity to whatever we’re planting. When it comes to leading change, too often the equivalent – helping employees increase their receptivity to change – at worst is skipped and at best skimmed over. It’s no wonder then that for the past four decades 60-70% of change initiatives have failed.
In our work with leading corporations, employee resistance to change has been one of the most significant obstacles to the success of change initiatives and historically, one of the most difficult to address. That resistance is generally rooted in:
Fear: Will I still have a job? Will I be able to learn these new skills/systems? Will I lose status?... and
Changes in today’s workplace are occurring at 10x the pace of the Industrial Revolution and 300x the scale. Yet, humans are not evolving as quickly as the rate of change, leaving many people feeling overwhelmed, threatened and stressed, struggling to meet, let alone exceed, expectations
Fatigue: Is this just the flavor of the day/I’ll wait for this to pass. With all that is already asked of me, how can I do more? How/when am I supposed to learn X? What are they asking me to do now? They didn’t listen last time when we told them that X wouldn’t work, and here we go again.
These concerns are very real and poised to increase – according to the McKinsey Global Institute changes in today’s workplace are occurring at 10x the pace of the Industrial Revolution and 300x the scale. Yet, humans are not evolving as quickly as the rate of change, leaving many people feeling overwhelmed, threatened and stressed, struggling to meet, let alone exceed, expectations.
Most people have not been trained to cope with the degree of change around us. In 2018, 'stress' was the number one symptom Googled. In 2019, the World Health Organization labelled 'burnout' an official syndrome, defined as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. More seriously, according to the World Health Organization, in the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide.
For all of those reasons, we urge organizations to take a serious look at how to more effectively support their employees as a key component of implementing change. To help employees thrive in the midst of change, they need knowledge and tools to manage their change-based fear and change fatigue. While some employees have cobbled together techniques on their own, (eg yoga classes or meditation apps, both of which we support), most do not have a holistic and deep understanding of how the brain-body connection impacts performance or which of the many tools available are best to strategically manage specific physical responses to change events.
You’re familiar with cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ). How about physical intelligence? Right now, hundreds of chemicals (hormones and neurotransmitters) are racing through our bloodstream and nervous system. Those chemicals dictate how we think, feel, speak and behave. Most of us operate largely at the mercy of those chemicals – experiencing thoughts, reactions and emotions – without realizing that we can strategically influence them.
Physical intelligence, underpinned by neuroscience, is the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of certain key chemicals through how we think, breathe, move and communicate in order to stress less, achieve more and live (and work) more happily.
Organizations that have adopted physical intelligence credit it with increased receptivity to change, higher profit margins, double digit revenue growth, as well as increased operating efficiency and customer and employee satisfaction scores – all within months of using physical intelligence.
There are over 100 physical intelligence techniques – some only take seconds. Here are a few individual and team techniques to help employees manage change-based fear and change fatigue. When levels of cortisol (stress hormone) are too high, it drags down the levels of three 'feel good' chemicals (essential for optimism and receptivity to change): dopamine (pleasure), serotonin (belonging) and oxytocin (happiness), along with DHEA (vitality). By identifying your own fear and fatigue triggers and what stress/overdrive feels like in your body (eg, tension, change in breathing or heart rate), when you experience those triggers, you can manage your response by using physical intelligence techniques, such as:
- Focusing on good posture and paced breathing (regular count of in-breaths and out-breaths, ideally with a longer count on out-breaths), the most powerful tools to manage demanding situations and build confidence
- Improving your physical flexibility – this lowers cortisol and improves mental and emotional flexibility
- Building resilience by adopting a learning mindset, increasing transparency, developing supportive relationships, and practising meditation and mindfulness
- Increasing endurance and energy with breathing techniques, exercise, sufficient sleep, a healthy diet and self-appreciation, rebalancing cortisol, boosting serotonin and releasing mood enhancing endorphins.
You can support a team’s receptivity to change by:
- Fostering a culture of trust, openness, and transparency in communication and behavior
- Keeping an eye out for people working too late, not taking holidays or prioritizing physical fitness, being short-tempered or withdrawn – and have courageous conversations to address it
- Balancing your own goals with understanding others’ agendas (requires balancing oxytocin and dopamine)
- Encouraging a positive, realistic, collaborative and creative attitude to change, especially addressing any changes that impact people’s status or relationships.
Arming your employees with physical intelligence will help them thrive throughout the change process and beyond.
Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton (pictured respectively below) are the authors of Physical Intelligence, shortlisted for Business Book of the Year 2020