Nevo Hadas discusses the types of losses at the heart of change management

How managers can understand the impact of potential loss to successfully implement change.

Change management research leads one to believe that change will always be met with resistance, and that this resistance is due to the fear of change. However, one may find that most people do not actually have a problem with change itself, particularly when it has a benefit.

What people encounter is resistance to actual or perceived loss. Individuals fear not being successful in a new way – the end result of what change brings – and so it’s easier to hold on to the known.

Nevo Hadas, the partner at DYDX, explains the types of loss people experience and how managers can understand the impact of potential loss to successfully implement change.

How we currently perceive resistance to change
We know that change is inevitable and hard. We acknowledge that there will be unavoidable resistance to change and difficulty in getting individuals in the organisation onboard, but perhaps leaders are not encouraged enough to delve deeper into the ‘why’ behind individuals’ fear.

Leaders don’t have to be convinced of the benefits of change, as they are already on board with change management projects.

Due to this, they then typically expect that others in the business share their perspective and positive response. However, the alternative might be the reality. Particularly if the change is forced, employees may be predisposed to “negative” responses.

This misalignment between the two perspectives means that negative responses in the business can therefore be frustrating or confusing, and often these emotions are perceived as taboo. Individuals may hide their hurt for fear that their responses could be interpreted as resistance to the change or even disloyalty to the organisation.

Types of loss
The recognition of loss as the emotion that employees experience during change is often what is forgotten in the overall change management process. Typically, if indeed we do read about loss that occurs during change management, it is linked to the potential physical loss – the loss of jobs, talent or specialised knowledge. The emotional loss of individuals goes widely unconsidered.

Bree Groff, the former CEO of Nobl, an organisational change consultancy, is one of the few to acknowledge this. She identified five key types of emotional losses that are important to acknowledge when designing and managing organisational change.

The loss of control – When change is forced upon people, they can experience the loss of their choice and control over external circumstances.

Before, people may have felt autonomous, but change interferes with that and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over territory they may have had. People need to feel that they have a say, that they are making their own decisions and that things are not just being done to them.

The loss of pride – When change leaders talk about the ideal future and share how much better it will be, it downgrades the perception of the ‘old’.

For those who have put the time and effort into creating and running the old way of working that got the organisation to where it is today (and potentially served it well through trying past times), this could be offensive, depreciate their contribution and make them feel unappreciated.

The loss of the familiar – There is comfort in the status quo. Even if the system is not optimal, people have become experts in the process that exists.

When change happens, people lose the familiarity of the environment as well as the expertise that they’ve built in understanding that environment and how it works. Even if the change will result in something more efficient and improved, everyone has to start again with reorienting themselves and learning afresh.

The loss of narrative – A narrative suggests direction and purpose, one in which people understand how they contribute.

With the change, people can feel that they have lost the narrative that they have understood and been telling about the company, which has an impact on how they view their place and their value in the organisation’s story.

Additionally, this could also mean people view a discrepancy between how they view the organisation and the change the organisation wants to make, which can feel to people like the organisation is deviating from its integrity.

The loss of time - Change requires effort and time. Those involved in the designing and running of change projects are often overloaded, usually due to the inevitable hiccups along the way.

This is called Kanter’s law, where everything can look like a failure in the middle as people make mistakes learning the new way of doing things.

So, where to from here?
For change to be successful, the impact of loss needs to be understood and acknowledged by leaders. For change to be effectively facilitated and managed, leaders need to begin having discussions that they would typically prefer to avoid.

Leaders need to understand the impact of grief:
“Don’t fear the pain and loss, anticipate it, embrace it, design for it,” suggested Bree Groff.

Change will not have much success if the loss and severity of it are not openly acknowledged. If grief is present, the mourning should be supported.

Gone are the days of expecting individuals to leave their emotions at home. While some leaders may be hesitant to open Pandora’s box of human emotions, there is evidence that there is greater harm in not engaging people’s feelings, as opening the box only reveals emotions that already exist in the organisation.

Leaders need to be self-aware and understand their own emotions if they are to be successful in understanding and supporting others.

Leaders should design for the allowance of loss:
Empathy is the first stage in design thinking. It is through empathy that leaders can put themselves into the position of others and understand how they view and feel about their circumstances.

Much like design thinking, the understanding of the perception of others is a critical step in the change management process and should not be downplayed. In designing the change process, leaders must embrace potential emotional losses and plan for how to help people to adapt.

By understanding how others feel, it is easier to recognise the concerns of individuals. Be cautious not to denounce the past way of doing things in the process of switching to the new. Acknowledge what the change really means for people and they will be supported in moving through their losses and grief to a better way of doing things.

Leaders should frame the loss of not changing:
As people are more affected by potential loss than by equal gain, leaders can highlight to individuals what could stand to be lost if change doesn’t happen.

By framing these failure-to-transform losses, organisations point out that there may be potential losses that accompany the change, but there is a definite loss that comes with remaining the same.

This approach equalises the concern around loss and allows for leaders to take up the role of support to employees in a process of change rather than the villain imposing change upon the organisation.

Currently, loss is not acknowledged as the heart of change management. This topic has gone widely unrecognised and has therefore not been discussed enough. Current change management research acknowledges the importance of leaders and their role in the success of change initiatives. However, without the right guidance and tools around managing the core discussions in change, are we then expecting too much maturity and emotional awareness from leaders who are central to successful organisational change?