Employee Engagement Leadership

How to motivate employees to embrace change - here’s what we know

how to motivate employees to embrace change

Can we get Bob Dylan on the stage over here, because one thing’s for sure folks - the times, they are a-changin’. Go on, put on the song while you read, we know you want to.

In the meantime, if you’ve been wondering how to motivate employees to embrace change so you can keep your business on an even keel in the brave new economy that’s emerging from the fog of the COVID-19 ruckus, we’ve got some good news. 

We’ve rounded up some valuable insight from some of the foremost change experts and respected business leaders around the globe, and it’s summed up neatly in a 5-minute read right here. Here you go:


Understand the neuroscience behind a resistance to change

According to Rob Snyder, PhD, senior neuroscience advisor at US management consulting firm TiER1 Performance, the first thing HR professionals and company directors should do when they’re trying to motivate employees to embrace change is to understand that there is some pretty complicated neuroscience at play. 

In his book, The Social Cognitive Neuroscience of Leading Organizational Change, Snyder explains that most employees' resistance to change is not related to stubbornness or backward thinking, but is instead linked to complex neurological processes that have developed over millennia to keep our ancestors safe from danger, secure in their groups and capable of protecting their finite resources. 

To boil it down to the basics (and this is a highly simplified explanation!), the human brain consists of three parts:

  • the primitive brain that controls your body's vital functions and responds to threats of danger
  • the limbic or social brain that values fairness and helps humans to cooperate with members of their 'tribe' and,
  • the clever neocortex that handles complex thinking that helps us to communicate and plan for the future. 

According to Snyder, leaders need to bear in mind that they are dealing with three brains wrapped up in every employee on their team and that each of these ‘brains’ are triggered by different stimuli.

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To reduce the likelihood of an unwanted response when initiating major changes in the work environment, he recommends keeping surprises to a minimum (primitive), being fair at all times (limbic) and helping employees to understand and conceptualise what lies ahead (neocortex). By doing so, you will keep the impulsiveness of the limbic and primitive brain regions in check, while supporting the neocortex in its bid to adapt and self-regulate. 


Designate champions of change 

When Mercedes-Benz SA's Abey Kgotle spoke at the HR Indaba on the topic of how to embrace change and contribute to business solutions in 2019. He placed a firm focus on building agile leadership teams and designating HR professionals as champions of change while a company undergoes an evolution.

Kgotle was speaking from experience.

This was the year that Mercedes Benz had to usher in the era of electric mobility and undertake an enormous digital transformation journey simultaneously; quite the tall order.

To do so, the Mercedes Benz SA HR team worked hard to instill a strong feedback culture as a part of their performance management mix, giving everyone a voice by focussing on upskilling and empowerment rather than punishment. 

“You should anticipate opposition and be committed to walking the path with those who are sceptical,” said Kgotle, “It's vital to communicate the need for change, and explain the impact on employees and their work in detail.”


Rally your team around a shared mission

When Satya Narayana Nadella was named CEO of Microsoft early in 2014, the company was in need of some serious TLC. Destructive internal competition had created a toxic working environment that was negatively impacting the much-needed innovation the business needed to compete with the likes of tech giants like Google and Apple. 

Nadella started by rolling out a drive to align all employees to three new goals, namely the reinvention of productivity and business processes; building an intelligent cloud platform; and creating more personal computing.

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This messaging lay at the core of the internal shakeup that would be rolled out over the course of the next few months of his tenure. It may seem like a small thing, but this messaging was instrumental in addressing a corporate culture that was lacking a positive sense of purpose, leading to low morale and inadequate employee engagement. 


Be transparent about any moves you make

Google co-founder Larry Page took the major leap to break up the company into its constituent parts and organise it under a new umbrella corporation called Alphabet in 2015.

This major move was instigated because the business had become almost impossible to manage due to a multitude of intertwined teams with overlapping goals, fund requirements, managers and more. From the outside, things were going swimmingly, but internally, things were a bit of mess. 

To address this issue, Page worked with his top-tier team to create a variety of different companies that each had their own goals and CEO to oversee those goals.

The success of the management team’s approach was based on playing open cards with their employees from the start. By explaining the benefits of being able to focus more fully on their own mission as part of a dedicated company, he made the proposition (and the resultant internal reshuffling) a lot more attractive to a creative team who had lost all sense of cause and effect in the maelstrom of innovation that was starting to spin out control. 

Learn more about how to motivate employees to embrace change and other important HR initiatives in times of upheaval by keeping an eye on the blog. We only dish up the good stuff - that’s a promise. 

Did you know that a simple way to encourage your team to adhere to the values that underpin your company vision and mission is to recognise and reward behaviours that align with those guidelines?

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