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5 Ways to trick the brain into adjusting to change

Resistance to change is a fact. It’s unavoidable, it’s human! At Google Cloud Next ‘19, I had the privilege of attending a session on ‘the neuroscience of change’. Travis D. Hahler, neuroscientist and Change Lead at Google, took us on a journey inside our brains to understand the biological reasons why we naturally resist change. And what we as change managers can do to help users go through this process, for example during a G Suite implementation. 

In this article, I’ll focus on the solutions he shared during the session to tackle resistance to change.

Neuroscience of Change Google Next session

1. Repetition

As our brain is primarily focused on saving energy, it becomes lazy and resistant to doing things differently. The best way for us to help with easing the change is to repeat.

Repetition will be needed in communications, but can also be used in

  • the creation of a project brand that will appear in several channels of communication
  • creation of a slogan that reminds users of your project, etc.

Trainings are a great place to allow repetition, too. As users take the time to sit down and think about what the change is bringing to their new way of working, it allows the brain to take the time to get trained too!

With repetition, the energy needed to implement the new behaviour will decrease.

2. Roll out Slowly

In our projects, we generally want to move quickly due to time and budget constraints. But it takes time to create new neuropaths in the brain. Leading too many changes at the same time can be exhausting and lead to burnout.

We need to be mindful that when we are implementing change, employees are under pressure of learning new things and are still completing their day-to-day tasks.

It’s therefore extremely important to allow employees to digest information piece by piece and still manage their daily tasks.

3.  Be inclusive

When we experience rejection, our brain experiences physical pain. That’s why inclusion is so important in change management.

The more people are involved in the project, the more they will be comfortable with the change. So involve them, make them feel part of your change.

It’s common to use “change agents” or “change champions” for this role.  Empowering and allowing change champions to feel included and feel they have ownership is key to a successful change management.

4. Transparency is key

As our brains don’t deal well with ambiguity we need to be very intentional about being transparent. A workforce that is at ease is one that will be productive.

The consequences of the opposite, of not being transparent about the project and about the change involved in a project, is that people’s minds will be focused on the issues and the unknown.

Transparency is possible in communications, in team meetings and mostly in what leadership does and portrays throughout the organisation. 

5. Have the funeral

When deploying change throughout your organisation, you need to acknowledge that your employees are losing something: a way of working, a tool, a process. Our brain has a hard time dealing with loss and the pain that comes with it.

In order for the company to move on, we need to acknowledge people’s sense of loss and the pain that comes with it.

Travis mentioned that some companies really set up a mock funeral to talk about the old system, what was achieved and how the company will move on. This is a great way to literally ‘have the funeral’ and enable everyone to get closure.

As such a mock funeral isn’t always feasible, it’s still important to provide people with a safe space to come together, express their feelings towards the painful loss and receive guidance.

Neuroscience of Change Google Next '19 picture

Resistance to change is inevitable. The key takeaway that Travis shared as he was closing his session was to acknowledge there’s pain, to plan for it and to embrace the loss.

Only once you embrace it will you be able to move on”.   

Want to read more about Change Management?

Check out our Change Management Resources page.