Organizations do everything in order to survive. They change themselves because they want to or they change themselves because they must. Not only crises compel companies to embark down new paths, but rather new technologies have done this and thus many a company, which did not promptly recognise the trends, is today already history. In this context, digitalisation is always a very good example because it triggers massive changes within the business models and has enormous ramifications for the companies. Many Consultants have promptly recognised this development and thus have done a good business in benefiting from it. Last year, I myself had the privilege of supporting such an exciting change process, but, in so doing, always endeavoured to offer only knowledge in order to enable the affected parties to design the change process themselves. It is impossible to change others, we can only change ourselves.
However, unfortunately, during change processes, I repeatedly see that they are associated with anxiety. Stability was far too long regarded as being a “safe harbour”. In his three-phase model of unfreeze - change – refreeze, Kurt Levin already placed the focus on a state of stability. However, in this context, companies should work much more on their abilities to adapt to dynamic environmental conditions than to strengthen that ability to freeze. In the book entitled “Change Happens“, Lothar Wüst quite accurately compared this with the unrealistic goal of wanting to freeze our weight. If we exercise hard in order to reduce our weight, then it indeed a well-known mistake to believe that this weight will simply remain unchanged on its own. It requires continuous efforts to maintain the target weight. Thus, the new weight, which so pleases us, is not a state of stability, but rather requires continuous change.
Moreover, what is valid for our body is also valid for our organisations. Organisations are complex structures as are we human beings. In addition, we humans, as complex organisms, have already always been characterised by the fact that we have a profound capacity to adapt. Our neurons, for example, possess the ability, based upon their experiences, to reconnect with each other – neuroscientists then speak of experience-based neuroplasticity. Learning processes within the brain are realised by new synapses being created and/or existing ones being strengthened. Our brain consists of 100 billion neurons which can have respectively up to 15,000 synapses. Thus, by nature, we have been created to be learning creatures and this learning ability enables us to repeatedly adapt to the changing environmental conditions which has already dramatically improved our chances for survival. Thus, change means survival for us humans.
During change processes, we must only learn to learn correctly. Hebb formulated two essential laws of neuroplasticity: (1) neurons that fire together, wire together and (2) use it or lose it. Thus, during change processes, if we have always addressed the problematic issue of our previous behaviour and what mistakes we have made, then we will change these behavioural models. Instead, we should focus more and early in the process on everything which is already working well. Whenever we sufficiently emotionally charge these behavioural models, then the undesirable models are automatically lost as the result of non-usage. This emotional charging occurs most strongly whenever what is new is shared and experienced by as many affected parties as possible because, as Neuroscientist Joachim Bauer expressed: “The strongest motivational drug for the human being is the other human being”. We have a neurological need for emotional connection and thus a collective experience is also the best learning experience.
We should regard change as an opportunity – as the opportunity to learn something new. We should not change ourselves only in times of a health or financial crisis, but rather permanently. However, we should also learn to embrace change because if we see only problems in what is new, then problems will indeed arise accordingly. But, in so doing, we should never forget that we cannot stop changes – regardless of whether we like them or not. We can only make the decision regarding whether we approach them with enthusiasm or anxiety – if we suppress or negate the need for change, then this will often lead to our slow death.
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