Successful change management involves a lot of psychology.

Knowing staff and leaders well enables change managers to support them in successfully navigating and accomplishing change. 

One of these types of psychology, behavioral change, was developed by one of the most popular emerging change management thought leaders, Edwina Pike of the Irrational Change organization. Edwina uses psychological concepts to help understand how team members process change. 

She suggests that employees have limited capacity for change due to the amount of information already in their minds as part of their daily workflow. So, how do we make space for change? 

In her 2023 LeadChange™ talk for Change Management Review™, Edwina Pike set out five strategies for using behavioral change to support staff in making mental space for change. 

These behavioral change strategies are: 

  1. Nurture psychological and organizational safety.
  2. Establish stakeholder trust.
  3. Take a diverse, agile approach.
  4. Consider the limitations of artificial intelligence (AI) before utilizing it for change.
  5. Help silos join together for collaborative approaches.

5 Behavioral Change Strategies for Change Success

Many leaders use change management models alone to promote success in digital transformation. However, this approach often fails because it takes an organizational approach, not an individual approach. 

Behavioral change helps practitioners to encourage leaders to approach change differently by understanding their employees’ experiences of change. 

The first of these strategies to help promote behavioral change to increase change management success centers around safety. 

1. Nurture psychological and organizational safety

“If you’ve got trust, you feel safe. If you feel safe, you’ve got trust.”

Edwina Pike, LeadChange™ 2023

As you delve deeper into behavioral change, you’ll realize trust is pivotal in organizational dynamics. 

Trust fosters safety, enabling smoother change adoption and empowering agility, risk-taking, and collaboration. Psychological safety is ideal but requires foundational safety levels, including physical and financial security. 

Threatening job security erodes trust and stifles organizational progress, as fear inhibits engagement. Understanding the trust-safety link is crucial for change agents, as it catalyzes positive outcomes while mitigating negative impacts. 

Academia is catching up, but practical insights on trust’s transformative power are invaluable for navigating change successfully right now.

2. Establish stakeholder trust

“We look at change through a couple of lenses of trust.”

Edwina Pike, LeadChange™ 2023

Challenging stakeholders without addressing their concerns creates undue stress and erodes trust. While addressing basic needs like posters may seem trivial, it signals support for stakeholders’ necessities and builds trust. 

Establishing trust early in projects enables asking candid questions and positioning oneself favorably. Using phrases like “I’m here for your success, not your comfort” establishes expectations and facilitates tough conversations later. 

Implementing behavioral experiments and a faculty approach can enhance understanding and effectiveness. Capacity management, often overlooked, is critical for success, particularly when applying agile approaches to break down changes into manageable parts. 

Ultimately, many organizational changes boil down to behavioral shifts rather than technological overhauls. Prioritizing behavioral change can yield significant benefits, potentially negating the need for extensive digital transformations altogether.

3. Take a diverse, agile approach

“Agile works so brilliantly because it doesn’t have long timelines.”

Edwina Pike, LeadChange™ 2023

Inspired partly by work on complex adaptive systems pioneered by Dave Snowden, this fourth strategy of adopting a diverse approach to agile methodologies for change management fits well with enterprise organizations. 

Traditional projects with fixed two-year timelines often overlook the dynamic nature of these systems. 

The world can change significantly within three months, rendering long-term plans obsolete. 

Hence, agility and breaking projects into smaller, manageable chunks become imperative. 

This approach acknowledges the uncertainty of the future and allows for flexibility in investment decisions, ensuring alignment with evolving organizational needs and external factors. 

Adopting an agile mindset enables organizations to adapt and thrive amidst constant change.

4. Consider the limitations of AI before utilizing it for change

“AI will be a game changer in change management.”

Edwina Pike, LeadChange™ 2023

Capacity management, which is the process of accepting that each staff member has limited mental capacity, is crucial due to limited resources and skills affecting project success. AI can play a role in this. However, it is essential to consider its limitations and how artificial intelligence (AI) drives change management before utilizing it. 

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) poses opportunities and threats in behavioral change initiatives.
  • AI, particularly large language models like ChatGPT, revolutionizes behavior analysis and sentiment assessment.
  • AI’s persuasive capabilities stem from its empathetic responses and language usage, influencing human behavior.
  • AI’s ease of use and efficiency make it a formidable tool in change management, potentially surpassing human capabilities.
  • Despite AI’s benefits, concerns arise regarding its potential misuse by bad actors and its impact on authentic leadership communication.

Consider these limitations of AI before trying to use any AI tool to help leaders understand their staff needs using behavioral change techniques. 

5. Help silos join together for collaborative approaches

“Once you study the predictability of tribes [teams], you can do something about it.”

Edwina Pike, LeadChange™ 2023

The tasks within a single silo, or tribe, are typically straightforward and have already been accomplished, while the challenges arise when collaboration between two silos is necessary. 

This collaboration is inherently difficult due to the complexities of human dynamics and tribal behavior, which are studied extensively in anthropology. 

Tribes tend to follow their leaders closely, seeking safety and guidance from them. To navigate these tribal dynamics, it’s essential to identify the tribal leaders and assess the quality of their relationship. This relationship significantly influences the level of collaboration between the tribes. 

A CIO encountered hurdles in a manufacturing project due to strained relations with executives, underscoring trust’s pivotal role in driving change. 

Yet, fostering such trust is increasingly arduous amid corporate emphasis on efficiency over relationship-building. Consequently, change agents must prioritize trust-building to become trusted advisors. 

Daryl Conner, CEO and Founder of Conner Partners, Inc., interviewed by CMR in the Meet The Expert: Daryl Conner article, stresses this importance, emphasizing trusted relationships for change agents. As change management officers (CMOs) evolve, their efficacy depends on sponsorship and independence. 

In addition, “fusing the box” challenges conventional views of change management, urging agents to exceed traditional roles by nurturing trust and showcasing broader value.

Use behavioral change to understand staff needs

Encouraging leaders to listen to staff needs fosters buy-in and mitigates change resistance during digital transformation. 

Behavioral change techniques, like nurturing psychological and organizational safety, establishing stakeholder trust, taking a diverse, agile approach, considering AI’s limitations, and helping siloed teams collaborate, help leaders delve into employee attitudes and behaviors to support their acceptance of change on their terms.

These insights inform tailored strategies, ensuring alignment with staff preferences and facilitating smoother transitions. Understanding and addressing staff needs are pivotal for successful change management in the digital era.

If you found this article fascinating and are curious to learn more, join our LeadChange 2024 talk in November for diverse insights for action on change management. 

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