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Investigating Barriers to Change: The Human Factor

Nov 1, 2019 by Mike Weaver

As with any large-scale corporate restructuring, Mergers, Acquisitions, and Divestitures commonly cause confusion and stress, severely disrupting ‘business as usual’ operations. However, when leaders and managers put themselves in the shoes of staff and sincerely seek to understand individual challenges, the whole process flows much more naturally.

It’s imperative to consider the ‘human factor’ when investigating barriers to change, and genuinely encourage two-way communication that instills confidence in all stakeholders.

This is the third stage in our MAD Change model, and in the conversation below, MJ and I outline how to ensure your team feel valued and secure, paving the way for a smooth transition.

How to investigate barriers to change

MJ: Our next phase in the iChange Model is Investigate. So, although at the Impact stage we have really made some assumptions about what factors will impact our team, we will now seek to understand these in more depth.

Challenges, barriers, potential quick wins, and actually the positives that we can use and build on. What we’re doing here is now really drilling down to truly understand what we need to do, the emotional state and stance of our teams – of our people – which in turn will impact their behaviour.

So, we’ve actually chosen to build on David Rock’s 2008 SCARF model by adapting it into the Quad model, and we’ve really thought about those emotional states and the level of engagement of our IT teams and those around us.

And Mike is going to talk you through that and how you can use it to identify where you are, and where your team are.

Mike: We’re now going to introduce the paths model. You can download this model, print it off and follow along as we go through the rest of the section.

In the bottom left-hand corner, this is what we’re calling the emotion of ‘I’m not in a good place at work right now’. These are the emotions and behaviors that people typically exhibit when they’re starting a very stressful project, or something is really changed in their work environment. This is really typical in a merger, acquisition, and divestiture.

Our goal through the paths is to bring people through other paths into the other quadrants, up into the upper right-hand corner. The upper right-hand corner – this is where we want to go eventually. We’re calling this the ‘I belong’ section. This is behaviors that people may exhibit right before the major change is announced, but this is where teams are at highest productivity and most effective.

In the upper left-hand corner, these are behaviors of people, we’re calling this the ‘Watching and Waiting’ section. In this section, this is behaviors that people experience typically as they’re starting to adopt to the change. This is the easiest way for people to go. This is the easy road of adoption.

The human factor of investigating barriers to change

Very few people can go straight from the bottom-left to the top-right. This is where we want people to go. In this section, there’s things like recognition and other items that a leader can do to help bring people through this easier path.

In the bottom-right hand section, still this can be a path that people go through and still end up in this ‘I belong’ quadrant that we want everyone to go to, but this is a harder way to go. Some people may stay in this quadrant for a longer period of time or may never get out of this quadrant.

This is where people are not engaged. This is where we’re calling the ‘I’m just a number’ phase; this is where people don’t feel like they’re part of the new team and part of the change that’s going to occur.

This is a great model that all levels of staff can use. This is something that you can bring to ‘one on ones’ and help talk to people about how they’re feeling. This can be a great communication guide to see where people are; they can identify where they are, where they feel in this chart, and you as a leader can help have an open conversation and bring them into that ‘I belong’ section.

In the interview, we’re going to get some additional tips on this topic.

MJ: So why is investigating important? It will Challenge our original assumptions. There are so many factors that will impact mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, and large projects that we have to continually review and update our thinking in order to adapt our strategy.

So, investigating will again refocus us on what is needed, when it’s needed, and how we can achieve it. Again, to ultimately succeed in ensuring our team adopt the model.


Mike: So, MJ at this stage we get questions a lot of times from, we’ll call them middle managers, but this can also be Team Leads – we’re going to refer to middle managers – but this can be Team Leads or anyone that’s involved in this kind of process because this is where we see it in our projects.

What is your advice to middle managers going through this experience? Often middle management gets caught between the realities of operations and the aspirations of the corporate plan. How can people in this position work through this?

MJ: Firstly. we’re at this investigation phase, so by investigating where we are, what’s happening, how people feel, how you feel – it can start to give us a framework from which we can then put tools in place to help us and help ourselves.

Again, I know I keep saying it but keep those communication channels open. Also, be mindful that you are the sponge as I call it – that middle bit. That’s a crucial role, don’t underestimate your worth because you are then able to absorb or translate key messages.

Keep going back and checking what the corporate aspirations are, and don’t be frightened to have the honest conversation.

Mike: I think that makes a lot of sense and the ‘talking points’ is a good mention of that, and a lot of times corporate plans fall apart because we don’t know how to communicate it down to more levels.

So, I think that’s actually really good advice: asking for what, how can I communicate this effectively? I’m not quite understanding it, and maybe yourself are missing some of those aspects, and particularly a lot of times we’re thrown into this middle role temporarily for the project, so I may not have all the skills or have been exposed to this before to actually do that.

MJ: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s at this time when actually we don’t want to, because we’re vulnerable because we think we’re at risk. It is that very time when you say, ‘Help me here,’ but say it in this way: ‘Help me support this change.’

That’s not negative, that’s positive and it’s an emotionally intelligent response.

Mike: I think that makes a lot of sense.

Investigating your barriers

If you’re in the process of MAD activity or digital transformation in general, and you need technical expertise to consolidate your IT infrastructure, please check out Quadrotech’s Office 365 migration services.

And if you’d like to know how we can coach and develop your leadership teams to manage their people more effectively, please get in touch with MJ Inspire.

In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss the factors that Influence change and what they mean for you. Stay tuned.