How can we embrace change when we’re too busy cowering in fear?

Are you feeling battered by the accelerating pace of change in insurance? Are your people struggling with a restructure you know just has to happen? Or are you struggling to push through a program of innovation to answer the threat from new, disruptive business models?

Then chances are, your people are struggling through their fear of change. It’s a problem across many, many businesses. In fact, Microsoft’s recent Culturing Success report found that “fear of change” is the biggest factor getting in the way of innovation, and therefore future profits, in 70 per cent of Australian businesses.

Your business can’t embrace change until your people do There are many, many excellent books on managing change in the airport bookshops, and they all have one very similar flaw – they ignore the fact that business is full of these really inconvenient things called “people”.

People who are terrified of change and hate it with a passion. So, while other change management experts talk about “implementation workflow”, “process models”, and “personal transition frameworks”, I’ve found a far better place to start is acknowledging your people have hearts and minds, doubts and fears.

There’s absolutely no point giving your employees new systems or investing in the best new software if you can’t convince the real flesh and blood human beings to let go of “the way we’ve always done it”. We have evolved to love certainty It’s important to point out here that this isn’t their fault.

Thanks to 200,000 years of “survival of the fittest”, our brains are hardwired to seek patterns and avoid change. We’ve evolved to love certainty. When something is familiar we feel relaxed and confident. When we’re trying something different, we get a surge of adrenaline that gives us sweaty palms and a tight feeling right in the middle of our belly.

We go into our favourite restaurant. Ahhhh, nice. New owner, whole new menu. Eeeek, not nice. I come home to my wife of 15 years, I relax. I come home to my wife and her new personal trainer Sven, I tense up. We still have these Neanderthal parts of our brain called the amygdalae that set off alarm bells if we move too far away from “the cave”.

And these shut down our prefrontal cortex, the higher thinking part of our brain, and drive us to stick to “what worked last time we felt threatened”. You can’t train terrified people So, if you are in charge of some organisational change that you know simply has to happen, you must understand that many people will fight you tooth and nail, without even really knowing why.

And if you’re going to help them through it, you have to listen to them telling you how unfair it all is. “My role was finally sorted, now everything’s changed again, it’s not fair. Life never works out exactly as I plan IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Then you have two choices, you can quote my old boss, who used to say, “Of course it’s not fair. Life isn’t fair. The world isn’t fair.” Or you can sit them down, acknowledge that they are scared and let them know you are going to help them through their fear and give them all the support they need to get through the change process.

How? The first step is to give them ammunition to see that big, hairy, scary burst of adrenaline in a different way. And we’ll get on to that in the next issue…

Marty Wilson is a former Australian Comic of the Year, now TED Speaker on Resilience and Growth Mindset for Business. To book his keynote, Change Without Fear, contact him through admin@martywilson.com.au or give him a call on 0434 048 952.