Change is a big part of our lives. In today’s business world, we accept that it’s an ongoing force, one that we have to embrace to survive and thrive. An organisation’s ability to adapt, innovate and respond to opportunities and threats as they arise will decide its future success.
The human challenge of change
Yet businesses struggle with change. Remaining effective and competitive in an environment that seems to be in a state of constant flux is possibly the biggest challenge that organisations face. The trouble is that we as humans are not programmed to deal very well with change. Our brains haven’t developed as fast as technology, and so brains continue to yearn for predictability and safety. Neuroscience has shown that humans judge everything in the first instance according to what it offers in terms of threat or reward. Is something offering pleasure or pain? To keep us safe, our brains tend to err on the side of caution. Anything new or different, those things that represent a change in routine and result in uncertainty – these are categorised as threats and so we resist them.
There’s something else that threats do as well. When humans feel threatened, this moves our brains focus away from our creative, thinking, brain to the ‘autopilot’ part of our brain. This offers us maximum capacity to just run away, which was fine when the threat was a sabre-toothed tiger, but it’s not as useful now when the ‘threat’ may be the challenge of having to use a new IT system, or learn to work with a new and unknown colleague.
The impact of uncertainty
Dealing with change – threat and uncertainty – puts the human mind under stress, which isn’t good for us. It releases neurochemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol, which again were great for running away from wild beasts but not so good now. In evolutionary terms, these chemicals are designed for short term use. You run away and then once the danger is past, you rest. So a lion will be flooded with adrenaline and cortisol while chasing the gazelle, and then after it’s all over, he’ll sleep on a mound in the savannah. In a business environment, that recovery time is not part of our day and so both productivity and health end up being damaged.
Showing a path to the future
None of this will be news to most organisations. They understand that they need to take note of the emotional side of change. They know that organisational change only happens when each individual is prepared to make changes that involve letting go of the familiar and being prepared to take risks in being part of something new.
Communication is a critical part of organisational change – ideally communication that not only imparts information but engages emotionally too.
When organisations are planning communications for their change programmes, it’s tempting for them to focus on the information. What will happen? When will it happen? What are the things that’ll change?
Using images rather than just text makes information more memorable. Using film and storytelling allows leaders and organisations to illustrate a path to the new ways and paint a living picture of how the new world could look. They can and should do this face-to-face too. It’s critical for leaders to remain visible during periods of change, and presentations and consultation sessions are an important part of this, but they’re short lived. Videos are a sustainable way to keep the humanity with the message and to tap into emotional meaning – human to human (H2H).
With background music, they can set a new tone and lead a shift in organisation culture. All this helps to create certainty about how the planned changes will look, allowing people to begin imagining themselves as a part of that new future.
It’s difficult for words on a page to demonstrate passion and conviction. With video, leaders can describe their vision and the changes needed in a very real and authentic way.
Talk to us about Communicating Change and find how how we can help you crystallise your messages and broadcast them human-to-human.