Social Psychology of Organisational Change
Gordon Allport, one of the pioneers of social psychology, defined it as “..the scientific attempt to understand and explain how the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings” (Allport & Lindzey, 1954, p.5).
Exactly because change is a very human experience, and played out within an environment that is a complex construct of behaviours, emotions and perceived values, both of the individual and the social persons involved, it is important, if not imperative, that advisers and consultants engaged in the practice of change management know and understand the socio-psychological aspects of organisational change.
Unfortunately, as found and stated by Strikwerda (2002) and more recent studies (Fiske, 2010. Aronson, 2016), this knowledge in many advisers and managers is too superficial, if not entirely absent, and so is missing, or underutilised, in a large percentage of the available ‘specialists’ literature’ on change management.
There is a way to improve on this availability and application of said knowledge, and that is through the employment of a set of four foundational insights into social psychology, that are summarised next. In our change management coaching, we explore each in much more detail, including how to apply them as foundational pillars of organisational change.
The first actually echoes an element of our Neuroscience In Leadership/Management training and materials, and that is that people are social animals. Our brains do not experience the workplace as a transactional environment (you provide work for a monetary/benefits compensation) but as a social system (Rock, 2018). Change in organisations is thus inevitably a social process.
The second highlights why some form of cohesion and structured methodology are so important, in recognising there are a number of psychological forces and factors at play during any change, and that subsequently requires a variety of theories and insights. Something Rijsman (1990) referred to as “an inventory of social influences”.
The third relates to the central mechanics within social systems during change, and that is to assign meaning to the change and its motivation. It is clear that stating a ‘mission or vision’, announcing a ‘set of values’ or offering some type of reward system, generally achieve next to nothing. These will only accomplish something if they are meaningful to those people, both individually and as a group, who are involved. Meaning is thus key to successful change.
The fourth runs somewhat counter to much of the optimistic rhetoric usually found in the numerous books put out by the self-professed change ‘gurus’ and ‘specialist consultants’ within the change management industry. It highlights that people, both the individual person and social or group person, reacts in unique and variable ways within the social environments, depending on the multiplicity of factors (see above) at play, so it is essential to be able to explain, understand and predict, as much as possible, the actual and likely reactions, paying special attention to the negatives and capitalising at both individual and social (group) levels on the positives.
These foundations, when applied appropriately and with evidenced knowledge and understanding, will provide for a strong platform from which to manage any organisational change programme, to more successful conclusions.
Here at NCG:Corporate, we provide change management advisers and managers, who have a deep understanding of social psychology and how it positively influences the outcomes of a change programme, and how underpinning your change with the core insights and social motives, can greatly increase its success, to help you with successfully delivering your change outcomes.