Our economic environment is forcing corporations to constantly change their management systems. Reorganizations create a lot of stress for their players as change does not favor human beings. With the SCARF model, Neurochange (Roch & Ringleb, 2013) is categorizing the social events that can activate mentalization by causing social pain. The model is based on several research projects and plays an important role in explaining how our brain activity responds to social stimuli manifested in observable behavior. And basically all five dimensions are affected during change processes.
Managers are Just Managing the Change
Studies are showing that the status we feel within a group we are surrounded by is more important to our happiness than the socio-economic status it provides. We work several hours a day at our business jobs and it is therefore no wonder that people identify themselves with their functions within the organization. This identification becomes their personality. Sometimes they are even named with this function (instead of their own names). Losing the position means then losing our identity. Over the years, we have stopped questioning our status, by becoming aware of what really makes us happy. Where do we have friends we can count on even in difficult situations? I do not want to say that having (real) friends in a business context is not possible. But so often we feel (in a management function) that people are just being friendly to us because of our function. Status therefore has to be related to something else in order to make us feel more independent during the change processes.
Moving from one (well-known) status to some new status always means uncertainty to a lot of people. Therefore, during transformational processes, we are looking for even more certainty than is normally the case. Roets and Van Hiel (2011) assert that individuals with a hypersensitive need for certainty are more likely to show signs of prejudice. People who are prejudiced have a strong need to make quick, firm judgments and decisions in order to reduce ambiguity. The importance of information and communication over the life cycle of a transformation becomes extremely critical.
Leaders are Steering the Transformation
Transitional processes require a situational, two-dimensional communication approach. The communication needs to be adjusted, on the one hand, to the phases of the transitional processes and, on the other hand, to the maturity of the organization. Kuane and Wagner (2016) differentiate between impact-oriented change communication and phase-oriented communication. Impact refers to the ability, competence and motivation of an individual. However, we have to be aware that, besides the vertical, formal (transparent) communication, there always exists the horizontal, informal (non-transparent) communication. Sometimes, I see managers becoming anxious about the informal part and they want to get this communication under control. If that were possible (which I do not believe), this communication would not be non-transparent and the effect would change. Instead of trying to get something under control which we cannot control, it would be better for us to understand that the worst communication in a change processes is no communication at all. The more time we spend time on the transparent communication process, the less time will be needed for the informal communication process.
Finally, relatedness and fairness (the last two letters of SCARF) are always affected by the change processes’ leaders because they need to be anchors for their employees, persons they can blindly trust. Even if the communication reaches a perfect state, employees will always feel that their leaders know more than themselves. This is not a bad sign as long as their leaders take action. If there is a strong relatedness to people in the community and especially to the leader, change processes will most likely be able to be seen as being fair (as fairness is always an individual judgement).
Leaders understand emotion as being the key success factor during the change process. With their emotional competence, they steer the transformation and give the people the freedom to develop themselves in the new world of work; a world where they can find their status and certainty so that they will be able to relate to it and will perceive the transformation to be a fair and natural process. Therefore, let’s work more with our people instead of merely managing them to somewhere they will never feel comfortable because it’s not the world they have built with us.