Neuroscience Sheds New Light on Change Management Strategies

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Neuroscience articles are becoming common when looking for new changes in organization change management methods.  These articles shed new light on how organizational change strategy and the approaches being use may need to be modified. Some current change management methods may be causing more harm than good during change efforts.  Learning about neuroscience will shed a new reality on change challenges and change management practices used today.

The discipline of organizational change management has come a long way over the years.  It started with a simple concept developed by Kurt Lewin back in the 1940s. Lewin’s model had three main components: to unfreeze, to change and then to refreeze in the new desired state.  That concept has driven many of our current change management methods. The introduction of Kübler-Ross’ model dealing with the “five stages of grief” provided context for what change leaders were experiencing while trying to implement change.  It gave the behaviors a name.  These two models are the basis for popular organizational change strategies and approaches used today. 

The introduction of neuroscience to the change model is taking the field of change management to a new level.  We now understand how “change” impacts individuals at a physical level with certainty.  Understanding what physically happens, to an individual when change is introduced, is critical when crafting a change management strategy and approach and talking with leaders about the challenges ahead.

Physical Reaction to Change

“Fear of Change” is not just a throwaway phrase according to Mark Stevens in his article Change Management and Neuroscience.  Advances in the field of neuroscience have produced more facts about how our brains work and how our brain influences and drives our behaviors.  In Eli St. George Godfrey’s article Managing Change: What Neuroscience Teaches Us about Burning Platforms, we learn that when people are presented with a crisis – which the burning platform denotes – it triggers a part of our brain that is a primitive part responsible for: emotions, motivation, predatory and defensive behaviors, memory and other functions. Our brain associates “change” with being threatened causing our mind and body to automatically go into threat response mode. This response mode may not even be recognized by the individual at first.   

So how does this change our programs?  According to Godfrey instructing leaders to communicate from a burning platform to engage individuals with the organizational message, could raise anxiety and resistance due to higher stress levels. The result is not producing acceptance but causing individuals to think less clearly and trigger their emotions more easily from the threat responses produced by the brain.  Given this new information using the burning platform is not a best approach for organizational change communication strategies.  This type of communication actually triggers resistance in the brain causing some individual’s behavior to get worse over time – producing fear, uncertainty, and high stress during the change effort which becomes harder to manage.

Change Reaction Goes Deeper

Neuroscience confirms that change goes deeper than its outward signs – it can become very physical. Change management strategies can either help this situation or make it worse.  Take into consideration what neuroscience is telling us: focus on the positives, ask questions and listen actively, work on eliminating the stress and anxiety as much as possible. Until the brain sees change as non-threatening, use the information learned through neuroscience when developing an organizational change management strategy and approach. Using this information during the strategy development process will shed a new reality on managing change, its challenges and leadership communication needs.


Carol Sutton
posted 5 years 2 weeks ago

Hi Shelley, It's not new, but

Hi Shelley,
It's not new, but the best advice I have is to investigate William Bridges work, on transitions. It's not change that's hard; it's the emotional and psychological transitions we have to make to ensure the change takes hold that can be so protracted and painful. Have a look at his work; you won't be sorry.
Deborah Turturici
posted 5 years 4 weeks ago

Shelley thank you for your

Shelley thank you for your question. I don't think my model at the hightest level has changed it's more the messaging. Communication stills plays a key roll in any change program. Getting the leader to convey his vision not a buring platform in a clear, consistent, and unambiguous way is part of the message, the key words are vision, clear and consistent. It's more about vision and marketing the message. The new model really needs to express vision and the marketing perspective. It also needs to make sure the OCM program supports the vision from all change perspectives; assessments become a key factor in the new model and should be noted as well to ensure the vision is being seen by all.
Gregg Rock
posted 5 years 6 weeks ago

Deborah - Thank you for

Deborah - Thank you for introducing these concepts to our Members - very timely. As you know, we're partnered with Gartner to host our BPM Certification Exam at their BPM Summits this year. During the London BPM Summit in March, the featured keynote "Overcoming Political Landmines To Accelerate Change" delivered by Tina Nunno was very well received. Earlier this month at the Maryland BPM Summit the featured keynote "The Neuroscience of Organizational Change" was delivered by Dr. David Rock. Looking forward to your upcoming articles on this topic!
Shelley Sweet
posted 5 years 6 weeks ago

So what new model for change

So what new model for change management do you suggest, Deborah, based on the new learnings from neuroscience? Shelley

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