May 2020 – We thought we’d share one of our breakthrough moments in our business and learned over our careers implementing change in sectors such as banking, education, media and fast-moving consumer goods (among many incredible resources, inspirational people and movements which have helped shape our company).
Watching COVID-19 and realising this is the biggest change and transformation of workplaces in our generation, we believe we can help people feel calm, orderly – but more importantly – back in control a bit more.
When you’re leading change, it’s often easy to see why and the positives out of it, but sometimes you won’t see how a workforce might react. Change and transformation triggers different reactions in people in various ways, without you even knowing – which makes it hard to be aware of and therefore plan for. However there is a way to get around this, and a way to get people on board quicker and more easily.
The biggest one for us? Given we’re in change management, delivering transformation packages to a group of people who weren’t on board – well, it was hard not to be surprised sometimes by negative reactions. But reading David Rock’s SCARF model (2008) was a revelation – and a huge relief.
I remember reading David Rock’s neuroscience research about people’s reactions to emotional and social threats. Guess what? When something you do threatens someone emotionally or socially, it is as real as though they’ve been hit on the head by a rock. Seriously. Read that again. “Hit on the head by a rock”? That made it very real for us. That something we were implementing with intentions for making things better, could be experienced by others as equivalent to threat of physical harm or survival.
“Due to the overly vigilant amygdala, more tuned to threats than rewards, the threat response is often just below the surface and easily triggered. Just speaking to one’s supervisor, or someone of higher status is likely to activate this response. “
(David Rock, (2008) SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. NeuroLeadership Journal Issue One 2008).
It was a breakthrough to realise people’s reactions to how we delivered change models could be predicted and planned for. We also realised we could add our own touch to make it a much more agreeable experience and to help encourage take up and usage of the change. Delivering change in an agreeable way became part of our business model.
The SCARF model gave us a set of considerations to work through to help see things from other people’s perspectives more reliably. This brought to life the negative triggers and likely reward options. It gave more consistent insights into creating a successful path.
Looking at the COVID-19 driven changes affecting us all, using the SCARF model, we can identify ways to support ourselves and others to move from survive to thrive.
The SCARF model’s five elements show us people react in possibly unhelpful ways to feeling threats to their sense of:
- Status: relative importance to others, where there have been seismic shifts in some roles. For instance, how influential are our Instagram influencers feeling at the moment?
- Certainty: ability to predict the future, where politicians and lobby groups propose and promote all kinds of decisions and dire or positive predictions which are difficult to link to an individual ’s own future.
- Autonomy: sense of control over events where we not permitted to go and do the things we are used to.
- Relatedness: how safe we feel with others, where we don’t have the reassurance of in person contact or physical touch and proximity to people carries risk of infection.
- Fairness: how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be where some people are suffering much more than others physically, financially and emotionally.
The SCARF model can help us feel more in control as change makers rather than change takers. With more understanding of likely reactions, we can store up our kindness towards ourselves and others when we see behaviours that are not ideal.
We can also use this as a check against our own choices. Are we responding to a sense of compulsion to do certain things because they feel like they’ll build up our status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness or fairness, even through in the long run it’s not the best choice for our new normal? An example is the loo paper buying where this seemed to give people a sense of control over the emerging scenario.
This set of possible future rewards is one way we can help ourselves be less attached to only one kind of reward – broadening out our perspective to other positives of a new future and helping us to get ready to create and step into whatever it looks like.
If you’re going through change, all the best, we hope this helps. If you would like to discuss further, get in contact with us.