A blog post by Nikki Watters. Corporate Mindfulness Trainer & Professional Coach.

In nearly 20 years in HR I have spent time with many HR professionals and business leaders across a wide variety of sectors and it would be fair to say that most of us have experienced the challenge of leading and implementing change. It would also be fair to say that change is here to stay, so if you’ve not already managed business change then you probably will.

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Whilst we might debate whether as many as 70% of change initiatives fail (although some of us may feel it sounds a little low!), what we DO all know is that change is hard to do well and frequently does not go according to plan. Change initiatives can have a negative impact on ourselves and on the people we work alongside in terms of morale, productivity, retention, stress, working relationships, trust…the list goes on. These effects can extend far beyond the end of the change programme and can do significant damage to the organisation and its people.

The key to successful change is people. As PwC say on their change consulting webpage, “it takes people to accept, adopt, drive and sustain the change to realise tangible impact”.

But, people are frequently averse to change. This is often attributed to their fear of the unknown and how it may impact on them, however, it may also be due to a number of psychological factors, for example:

  • In 2010 researchers Eidelman, Pattershall and Crandall showed that the longer something is established the higher we value it, we think that tradition and longevity equal good. This suggests that the longer we, or the company we work for, have been doing something in a particular way the more likely it is that we will make an unconscious, non-logical assumption that it is the right way. Those of us leading change will find that overcoming this belief is challenging.
  • Other research suggests that humans operate with a negativity bias – that our brains are more sensitive to negative news than positive news (so we react more strongly to negative stimuli). We are also more likely to seek out and focus on negative news, particularly in stressful times.
  • Many studies demonstrate how difficult it is to change people’s minds, for example studies show that people operate a “confirmation bias” where they will interpret information in a way which confirms their preconceptions; and “motivated reasoning” where they hold fast to erroneous beliefs despite overwhelming contradictory evidence. So, once someone has decided that the established way of doing things is best, or that the change to be implemented is going to be bad news for them it can be quite a challenge for those leading change to turn things around.

 

Adding all of this together results in a strong concoction of brain processes which conspire to make the smooth and successful implementation of change exceedingly difficult. Basically, our brains seem wired to resist change.

And, this is where mindfulness comes in.

Through being more mindful we can literally change our brains - we can learn to focus on what we want to focus on, we start to notice and balance that negativity bias, we are able to see a clearer picture of what is actually happening, we become more aware of our thoughts, thought habits and reasoning.

There is a strong body of research evidence and case studies which show that mindfulness improves many of the attributes necessary for effective change, including:

  • Positivity and optimism
  • Coping strategies
  • Emotion regulation
  • Flexibility / adaptability
  • Resilience
  • Perspective (seeing the bigger picture)
  • Reducing rumination
  • Engagement and reducing employee turnover
  • Interpersonal relationships

 

In addition, mindfulness has been shown to increase leadership capability including setting aside personal agendas and working for the good of the organisation, improving decision making, increasing empathy and enhancing the effectiveness of negotiation skills – all of which are crucial in developing and implementing change programmes.

Many companies already recognise the value of introducing mindfulness initiatives, and this includes companies who have rolled out mindfulness training alongside major change programmes.

As change is inevitable, and indeed essential for business success, perhaps the adoption of mindfulness practices is also inevitable – and indeed essential - for those experiencing, managing and leading change.

Have you considered how mindfulness may assist your change programme?

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