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🌱3️ Strategies to Improve Organizational Resilience

behavior change kurt lewin resilience Apr 18, 2023

In 1947, social psychologist Kurt Lewin developed and shared his three-stage process for organizational change. His model, known as "unfreeze, change, and refreeze," was the outcome of a study that found human behavior to be a factor of a person’s environment. Lewin argued that if the environment changed, then the behavior of that individual would also change.  

The three-stage process was designed to help organizations overcome individual resistance and group conformity through the process of actively shaping the environment to affect behaviors. In other words, by increasing the driving forces that make the current state or status quo undesirable, stakeholders would become more willing to change.

Lewin's model is a useful framework for helping organizations understand the importance of creating the right conditions for change. What’s missing from the model—and most change management models developed prior to the pandemic—is the focus on increasing the driving forces to also improve resilience during the change process so stakeholders can respond better to future changes.

Resilience is essential for employee thriving and organizational change success. Without a focus on resilience, the likelihood of change collisions and conflicting priorities is high. Initiatives that impact the same stakeholder groups get rolled out concurrently, and every change is experienced as separate and distinct, versus part of a strategic, unified plan. This type of environment can be frustrating for employees to work in, and expensive for organizations to maintain.

To build organizational resilience and prepare people for future changes, leaders must:

  • Create a culture of learning. While professional development programs are ideal, leaders can infuse learning into the change implementation process by giving employees special projects so they can develop new skills or gain experience in a different area of the business. Leaders can also encourage experimentation and show teams how to “fail-forward” by examining what went wrong together, determining what to correct as a group, and reviewing lessons learned to improve the future change process.
  • Create opportunities for employees to build connections. Research has shown that people with a strong network of supportive relationships are better equipped to navigate change and disruptions. Leaders can encourage relationship building during the change process by creating space for employees to discuss their experience with the change and where they may need support. Invite change influencers or key project stakeholders to attend team meetings, and then encourage conversations to continue offline.
  • Create a stable work environment. Stability is critical for resilience. Leaders who regularly cancel meetings, withhold information, or struggle to stick with decisions create chaos and instability, which are not the right conditions for change.  To create a stable environment, leaders can start by keeping their commitments, which includes attending team meetings, clarifying priorities, and communicating frequently and openly about the change with employees.

To build organizational resilience, change expert and a recent Change Leader Insights podcast guest Douglas Flory recommends organizations also focus on helping employees develop growth mindsets. “Our mind influences the way we perceive and think about things,” says Flory. “A growth mindset allows people to learn and continue to grow, to see change as an opportunity—not something to be fearful of.”

Flory also advises leaders and managers to evaluate what they are asking employees to focus on for the year, and to organize the work in a way that is not overwhelming. Says Flory, "Otherwise, we are going to burn people out, and that’s not going to work or get the results.”

Flory recommends organizations create a roadmap that groups changes that share common ground together, and then roll them out over a period. In doing so, leaders can influence the pace and capacity of what people can deal with, while also meeting the needs of the business in a strategic, coordinated way.

If you're looking for a framework that includes recommendations like the ones outlined above, Apogy's framework for individual and organizational change, the ART and Science of Change Leadership, includes two models for helping change leaders build resilience during the change process.

The first model, ART, stands for - Aware, Ready, Trained. This model describes the goals and objectives for lasting individual change and is based on the premise that employee well-being (which includes being resilient) is a key driver of organizational change success. Ensuring people are Ready for change, for example, reminds leaders to foster connections and demonstrate caring for employees through the interventions implemented during the change process.

The second model, 3D, stands for Define, Design, Deploy. This model outlines the steps change leaders can follow to realize the goals and outcomes for ART. Each step in the 3D process is designed to strengthen resilience in the short- and long-term. From inserting a test cycle into the change process to reinforce learning to implementing a portfolio management tool to pace and prioritize enterprise changes, the 3D model offers a modern and human-centric approach to implementing organizational change.

At the end of the day, resilience to change isn’t something that occurs by accident, nor does it happen overnight. But, by focusing on ways to improve resilience as part of the change process, leaders can meet the needs of the business and develop a workforce that is ready for change now and in the future.

 

References:

Suarez, F., & Montes, J. (2022). Building Organizational Resilience. Harvard Business Review.

Maor, D. & Weddle, B. (2022). Raising the Resilience of Your Organization. McKinsey & Company. 

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