Help Guide: Making Change Feel Achievable – The Key to Organisational Transformation
Change is an intrinsic part of growth, whether personal or organizational. However, the biggest challenge often isn’t the change itself, but the belief that such change is possible. This belief is profoundly influenced by the perceived magnitude of the change. When the vision or goal feels too colossal or distant, individuals, and by extension, organisations, can falter. How then do we address this and make change seem achievable?
The Psychology of Unattainable Goals
Neuroscience shows that when faced with a daunting task, our brain’s amygdala — responsible for processing emotions — can trigger a threat response. This response releases cortisol, a stress hormone, leading to feelings of anxiety, avoidance, and a sense of defeat. Moreover, from a psychological standpoint, goals perceived as unachievable can lead to learned helplessness. This phenomenon was identified by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier in 1967. When repeatedly faced with adverse situations that one believes they can’t escape from or change, individuals eventually stop trying, even when opportunities for change arise.
The Organisational Impact
Consider a company wanting to undertake a full digital transformation. If this transformation is introduced as a massive overhaul needing completion within an unrealistically short time, employees might feel overwhelmed, leading to resistance, procrastination, and half-hearted attempts.
One famous instance of this is the failed attempt at transformation by J.C. Penney under CEO Ron Johnson in 2011. Johnson sought to make dramatic changes, eliminating sales and discounting, and introducing boutique brands. The changes were drastic and immediate, leading to customer and employee confusion and pushback. Sales plummeted, and the company had to revert to its old model.
Shrinking the Change
On the flip side, many successful transformations have taken the approach of ‘shrinking the change.’ This strategy breaks down the change process into smaller, more digestible chunks.
For instance, when Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he set forth a vision of “Mobile-first, Cloud-first.” Rather than a massive overnight transformation, the company tackled one segment at a time, gradually shifting its services to the cloud and realigning its mobile strategy.
The Brain and Achievable Goals
When our brains perceive goals as achievable, they release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward. This creates a positive feedback loop, where accomplishments serve as motivation for continued effort. Furthermore, setting and reaching smaller milestones can generate a sense of progress, keeping momentum alive.
The ‘Just Outside the Comfort Zone’ Principle
Psychologically, optimal personal growth occurs in the zone just outside one’s comfort zone. It’s a delicate balance. If the change is too mild, it might not drive growth; if it’s too drastic, it might lead to retreat. For instance, learning a new instrument doesn’t start by attempting a concerto but by mastering scales. Over time, these scales turn into melodies and then full compositions.
For successful organizational transformation, leaders must understand the balance between challenge and achievability. By shrinking change, acknowledging small wins, and ensuring that change is seen as a series of manageable steps rather than an insurmountable mountain, organizations can foster a culture where change is not only embraced but actively pursued. Making change feel achievable isn’t just a strategy; it’s a necessity.