S2 E2: Empowering & Supporting Change: The Neuroscience of Change with Jenni Field | Oak Engage
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S2 E2: Empowering & Supporting Change: The Neuroscience of Change with Jenni Field

   Minute Read     Internal Comms HR Enterprise

S2 E2: Empowering & Supporting Change: The Neuroscience of Change with Jenni Field
Table of Contents

    We’re well underway with our second season of Comms In A Nutshell, a brand new look, a new episode format (episodes are now more appropriately nutshell sized) but all the same great internal communications insights you all know and love. 

    For this episode we’re joined once again by Jenni Field but this time we’re talking about all things organisational change, specifically… Why are we so resistant to change? And what can businesses do to help guide employees through organisational change successfully. In case you haven’t heard our other episode with Jenni, you can listen here to discover how you can create psychological safety in the workplace. 

    75% of change initiatives fail because of resistant company culture. Human brains are naturally resistant to change because they crave stability. But change is inevitable in the workplace, and done correctly can lead to leaps and bounds of progress and growth in your business. In an ideal world, changes would happen just as we want them to, but you’re dealing with a whole host of people and emotion. This can make change tricky. Which is why we're back with Jenni Field who walks us through:

    • Why our brains dislike change
    • The change curve (Kubler & Ross)
    • Practical tips to approach change in your organisation
    • Essentials for communicating change
    • Jenni’s top tips for empowering and supporting change in the workplace

    You can listen to the episode right here, or download on your favourite podcast player: 


    Reading & Resources:

    Episode Transcript: 

    Empowering and Supporting Change - The Neuroscience of Change with Jenni Field  

    Vic: [00:00:00] Welcome to Comms In A Nutshell, a podcast by Oak Engage. Comms in a nutshell is the go-to place to listen to discussions with the Oak Engage team, industry experts, and global brands about the world of work, internal comms, intranets, and how you can get the best out of your workforce. At the end of each episode, we wrap up all the tips and findings discussed in a nutshell so that you can start implementing them right away.

    Enjoy this episode. Hello everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Comms in a nutshell, I'm Vic. 

    Scott: I'm Scott 

    Vic: and we're your hosts. Comms in a nutshell is your go-to internal communications and workplace podcast filled with tips, tricks, and best practices. So today we're going to be talking about empowering and supporting change in the workplace.

    Communicating [00:01:00] change in the workplace is incredibly important, but can be difficult for businesses. According to research from the Center for Creative Leadership, 75% of change initiatives fail because of resistant company culture. So human brains are naturally resistant to change because they crave stability.

    Change can be quite scary. So employees need all the reassurance and communication they need so they know exactly what's happening, when and what to expect from changes. So we want to highlight and give listeners information, advice on how to successfully communicate and ignite change in their organization.

    We're joined again by the wonderful Jenni Field, who we've had on the podcast previously discussing how to create safe spaces that support employees and their mental health in the workplace. So if you haven't listened to that episode, you can go and check it out. Jenni has a wealth of experience helping businesses improve their internal communications.

    She's a fellow of the C I P R, author, International speaker, and she also has her own podcast Redefining Communications. So Jenni, I'll let you introduce yourself and just tell the listeners a bit about yourself. 

    Jenni: Thank you. Thank you for having me back. It's lovely to be with you [00:02:00] again. So I'm Jenni Field. I've worked in communications for around 20 years.

    I have my own consultancy, which is called Redefining Communications, but before that I was communications director for a pharmaceutical company. I've been global head of comms for a, sort of retail hospitality business and, gosh, what else have I done? I've done media relations and all sorts of different things in communications, I've set up around four different functions.

    So a lot of the work we do is helping organizations either sort of create communication functions or we help audit, communications teams, working with them to look at how they can do things a little bit differently. And I created the field model, which is my own model to help organizations go from chaos to calm.

    And that's where we understand the symptoms and then we diagnose the root cause and then we fix the root cause so that we're fixing things for the long term. So that's where we look at a lot of change programs and things like that as well. 

    Vic: A jack of all comms trades 

    Jenni: I am a jack of all comms trades. I, I feel like I want to cover that with [00:03:00] and a master of the all


    Scott: The golden question. Why are we all so stubborn to change? Why, why do we not like it ? 

    Jenni: Why do we all hate change? 

    Scott: Let's start with the little things. 

    Jenni: Let's start there. Why not? Let's ease us in gently. So change I always think is really interesting. You know, as human beings, we don't like change generally, and that's really because our brains are designed to keep us safe.

    And when things are changing, the brain then says, oh, I don't know that I can keep you safe. I can't predict what's going to happen and therefore I'm going to worry and panic and think the worst because if I think the worst, then hopefully I will keep you safe so that's the main issue with why we don't like change, because we just can't predict.

    And some people, you know, don't mind change. There are varying sort of degrees depending on your sort of behavior, personality type will depend where you sit in that. The majority of the human race don't like change at all, but some people will really thrive in it. And, , and it, it really just depends on your upbringing and, and some of those [00:04:00] things as well. I always remember an old boss saying to me, um, Jenni, you just have to get comfortable with ambiguity. And I was like, oh my God, I don't know how, like this is just chaos . And it was before I'd read and researched a lot about the brain and, and how it works and those sorts of things.

    And then I kind of sort of come out of that and think actually, nobody is comfortable with ambiguity, it's fine. So I feel much better about that now, knowing that it's just how we are wired, but it is just how we are wired. We're just not designed to like it. And it's, it's trying to find ways to help us cope with the change.

    And there are things, you know, we can do to, to, to build on that, but it's just how we are wired. If we can't predict what's going to happen, we are going to worry and feel a bit anxious, some of us more than others.

    Vic: I only like change when it's me making the change... 

    Jenni: Yes. If I'm in control, then it's absolutely fine.

    If it's, it's being done to me, absolutely not. 

    Scott: Yeah, and I guess that's, that's then expedited when it's being made in the workplace where a lot of the time you are just, hearing about the change not being involved. [00:05:00] Yes. 

    Jenni: Yeah. So much of the time, isn't it, you're just communicated to saying this is what's happening.

    You know, how that communication happens? I mean, we've all got horror stories, I'm sure we can share about change programs and some of that communication. But in the workplace, there's so much that's out of your control and work is such a core pillar for our security in terms of salary and what we need in order to survive that it's just, it's almost sort of made even worse. So I think that's the bit that we often forget is that you are talking to human beings and when you are doing quite big massive change programs and when you are in it, you sort of forget it. It's, it's ki it's a quite dehumanizing experience sometimes when you are working with the leadership team and the board working through things because it becomes slightly cold, which is never very nice, you know, but it, it inherently sort of does. And sometimes that's, you have to remember that there are people and, and we have to make sure that people are treated fairly and equally and all those things.

    Scott: It's faceless, isn't it? Yeah. 

    Jenni: Oh, this is great, isn't it? It's really light in the mood on the podcast.[00:06:00]

    Scott: Yeah. As, as you mentioned, not a lot of people like change. And I know when we spoke to you previously, you mentioned the change curve. Um, so do you just wanna kind of run through that and give people a bit of an overview? 

    Jenni: Yeah, sure. So we talk about the change curve a lot, which was developed by Kubler Ross, and it's the change curve theory, and it's something that we teach when I teach on the Diploma for Internal Communications with PR Academy and C I P R.

    So the change curve theory is always in there and it's always helpful to explain to people if you're doing sort of a change project at work. So we do it in workshops with teams so they can understand what they're gonna go through. So it starts with, shock so the sort of surprise that something's happening and that it doesn't always start with shock.

    I think we have to be honest there, not . I think in the current climate, we're not always shocked about things that are coming in organizations. So it goes from shock to denial, which is that disbelief. You know, I, I can't believe this is happening, into that frustration. And then down into a, a depression that doesn't necessarily mean you're going into a depression, but it's a sort of your low mood, your lacking of [00:07:00] energy, that lack of motivation.

    Then you sort of come up and out where you are looking at experiments. So that initial engagement with the situation then onto a decision of, right, I'm gonna be doing this, and then you are integrating into the new changes. So that's the sort of curve you go through. What's important to, to recognize is that we all go through that curve at different speeds.

    So I go through that curve personally relatively quickly. Now, I can move quite quickly because I'm quite focused on taking action and I'm quite focused on the task that we're doing. But there's people I know, there's people I've worked with who go through the, the curve much slower than me. Which can make it difficult because I'm already out the other side, and they're stuck in frustration and I'm already at integration.

    So that's the bit to, to acknowledge is that people will go through it slightly different times. Plus, we also have to remember that, that when we get to kind of frustration and that sort of low mood. Sometimes we can stay there and sometimes the brain kind of wants us to stay there because it's quite easy to be in that [00:08:00] space.

    And the brain, while it's kind of trying to predict to keep you safe, your brain can also be a little bit lazy. It doesn't want you to do something that's gonna maybe push you out your comfort zone doesn't want you to do something that's going to make you maybe a little bit uncomfortable. Doesn't want you to go into the unknown.

    So if I can stay here, even though I'm frustrated and I can stay here because I'm, I'm quite okay being frustrated and annoyed because I don't know what's out the other side, so I'm just gonna stay down here. So that's also important. We have to sort of really lift ourselves to come outta that and the organization can support that, but that's also a very individual thing, to kind of go through.

    And that's a lot of what we talk about when we talk about changes. It is a very individual thing to go through in an organization. And quite a lot of the time, what's important to me is that people understand. You will go through this change curve, a different pace to others, and you have to understand those different phases and what you need in order to move from one step to the other.

    No one else can do that for you. That's, that's really up to you.

    Scott: Yeah, and I think that's probably a lot like news to a [00:09:00] lot of businesses as well because it is, if there's big change happens, it's all very well and good putting in support for a week, but if that doesn't actually help everybody, then. What impact will that have on the long term of your staff and interns?

    Yeah, so, 

    Jenni: Yeah, exactly. And I think there's also something I do think when we think about change is I've worked on change programs and organizations where you've sort of restructured the organization and you might have had, you know, three divisions and you've now got four divisions and it's been quite a significant change to, I would say the top third of the organization but I would say the other two thirds of the organization are completely unaffected by that in terms of their day-to-day job. And I'm thinking about when I worked in an organization that was hospitality based. You know, there were 10,000 people in the uk, 8,000 of them were frontline workers. Now their job doesn't change.

    They're still serving coffee every day. I'm still reporting into the same supervisor. I barely see my store manager, let alone my operations [00:10:00] manager, let alone my regional director. But if I'm now suddenly in a slightly different division to the one I was in the other day, that doesn't really make any difference to me, and I think that's equally important.

    We can get very caught up in change programs and thinking they affect everybody, but we have to look at the sort of stakeholder map around change as well, and make sure that we're understanding the impact. that it has on the different stakeholder groups that we've got because it might be that it is just that top third that this makes a difference to and and that's where we need to focus our attention. And we don't need to to worry too much other than informing people that there's just been this shift in terms of how we structure the business.

    Vic: If there 

    are changes that are happening and it's involving employees, I think now that we know how the brain works, is there kind of like an outline or map to follow with regards to change communications in general and kind of, I know you said about the different levels.

    What can you do if people, some people are stuck in that frustration stage and then obviously some people are kind of just getting on with it. How do you kind of strike a balance and work out a plan? . 

    Jenni: How long [00:11:00] have we got for this podcast? That is the question. So, and it's, difficult. Okay. And, and I think, you know, you said at the beginning of this podcast how many change programs fail as a result of poor sort of communication. It's not an easy thing to do. And, and I've seen examples where comms teams have mapped their comms messaging to the change curve, which I think is really smart. But we also have to remember that everyone goes through it at different levels. So that doesn't, you know, just because you think this is the stage we're at doesn't mean that everybody's at that stage.

    So I think when we are looking at at change, we know how this sort of brain works a bit in my experience and what we do with organizations going through it. We do tend to try and run, change workshops with the organization. So where it's possible to do that, we'll go and talk to people about the fact that this is how your brain works, this is what you can expect.

    These are the general different behavior types of people, and this is what stresses out some of those behavior types. So just be mindful of how people feel if you're going through conflict, cuz at the moment you will be, we'll talk about people's values, getting them to think [00:12:00] about that so that they can understand what their values are to get an element of control.

    Over whether or not they want to stay with an organization, if the values of the organization feel like they have shifted. So for me, it's about helping employees feel like they have control over whether they want to stay or go, and they have some control over how they're going to feel during that. And understanding some of the work we do around resilience.

    So, can I control it? Can I influence it? And, and looking at those two buckets. So those are the things that for me, I think organizations need to look at, so how are you helping employees understand some of this stuff? This isn't just for your leadership team or the communications team to know, you know, people in general need to understand this.

    So that would be sort of one thing I would recommend, and I think it's also making sure that you've got a dedicated space for information about what's going on for the change, and you are consistent. In that. So when I was doing a sort of merger acquisition, we created a [00:13:00] dedicated microsite for that so that that was updated.

    And from that we did a newsletter that went out every Thursday morning at 10 o'clock. Now, if there was nothing to say, it still went out and it said there's nothing to say. Yeah, but you can't say to people, we'll just let you know when we know. Okay. Your brain's gonna go, but when are you gonna know? And I don't know, I can't predict and, and how do I trust you? And, and there's, or there's just too much ambiguity in there. So it's that consistency that's really important to show up, you know, weekly if, if it doesn't have to be weekly, it depends what your change program is, but whatever you've said you're gonna do, you have to do that. And I think there's also something about making sure that the leadership team are doing things the right way. Now this will depend on your culture, and I'm not gonna get into examples here, but yeah, I have, you know, there, there's many I could talk about over a coffee, where leaders maybe have the best intentions. But their behaviors don't demonstrate that. And when we look at the 13 Behaviors of [00:14:00] Trust, uh, which is from Stephen M Covey's book, the Speed of Trust. So we put a link in the show notes to that. And I've got a PDF of those behaviors, which we can share as well. But if you look at those 13 behaviors, those are what we want to really build on. And we have to remember that we are judged by our behaviors, not by our intention. But we judge ourselves by our intentions because we know what they are. So it's, it's just getting some of those little things, joined up and lined up that are really important for change. Yeah, 

    Vic: And I suppose it's just about making sure that everyone has all the information that they need so then they can't try and second guess. Like they know exactly what's happening when. and it doesn't leave any room for, like you said, ambiguity.

    Jenni: It doesn't, but I think we also, you know, we have to be realistic with how much information Yeah, there is that actually allows for that. Because in an ideal world, you know, as communicators, we can often sit there and say, you know, we need a good plan.

    We need to know when things are happening, what's going on. But if you are an organization that might be restructuring, you might think, right, [00:15:00] this restructure is actually a six month to a year plan and in the first three months we need to restructure to the point where we might not have a couple of team.

    Yeah. Some functions might not be needed anymore, so that's kind of phase one. We know that further down the line there's going to be other changes, but that's not for kind of six months. So we don't wanna communicate that because we don't wanna disengage those people. So that's the balance. We have to try and find is how do you, how do you communicate that change is happening without leaving people in this state of ambiguity for six months to a year? But also protecting the organization from a commercial perspective and what the organization's trying to do. And that's the, that's the trickiness.

    Because as comms people, and I, and I say this as someone that probably earlier on in my career felt very much like this. You know, I want to have the plan. I want to get it all. You know, we've got to be able to work it all out. And business just doesn't like that. So how can we be flexible as communicators?

    To help advise and coach leaders through that and be the voice of, of the employees, [00:16:00] but also understand that we are trying to achieve something that might be long term. And if I think about a change workshop we did with some employees recently, we did say, you know, the, they know that the change, they know that it's a sort of merger that's coming in about a year's time, maybe 14 months time.

    And we were saying that this is going to be a bit uncomfortable for probably a year. There's, there's no way out of that, like, you know, the end date, but we don't really know what that's going to look like when we get there. So that's why for me, it's about you having control and you understanding you do have control because this is going to be uncomfortable for a year.

    And I think that we have to lean into that sometimes rather than just trying to pretend it's all going to be fine. 

    Vic: Yeah. So it's like striking a balance between the employees and the business. 

    Jenni: Yes. And that, I think that is the, that's always the hard bit to, to get there. 

    Vic: Yeah, so you spoke about like mergers and acquisitions and restructuring. Are there any kind of other examples of change situations that people might need to think about? Creating a [00:17:00] plan for?

    Jenni: Loads. I always find it interesting when sometimes when communications professionals say they haven't really done a change program. Cause I always think, ooh I don't know how you have, you know, have you not introduced a new tech from IT? Or you know, is there not a new policy that people have to follow and do something different about or, so there's always going to be little changes. I don't like the whole change is the only constant. Nonsense. I know you said a rude word there. Nonsense . Um, because I just think that's not particularly helpful, but there will be little change things you might be doing.

    I think a, a crisis is slightly different, but is in the realms of change, depending on whether it flips into a crisis. So it's making sure that you are looking at, you know, what needs to change when it's changed. So if, if we, you know, if, if this is how the business operates, this is how people have one-to-ones, this is the rhythm of the organization.

    If there is a significant restructure change, then how does that need to flip and, and be different in order to support people through that? So there's, there's different scales, I suppose of it. And I think [00:18:00] that's what what we need to think about is you have got at that sort of top end, I suppose, the kind of restructure, merger and acquisition, that sort of, And then at the other end you've got, you know, here's some new tech that we need you to use and they need different levels of resource and different levels of support depending on what the outcome is that you are looking for. Um, but I think it's also mapping the change to the employee experience as well. You know, people will leave and that's okay. You know, the goal can never be to keep a hundred percent of people because you probably don't want to if you're doing a restructure or there is a merger like that. That's the reality. So you have to be realistic with that outcome and realistic with, there will naturally be people that will want to go if roles are significantly different to the role that they were employed to do. That's a natural, so we have to sort of factor that in in those sorts of things.

    Scott: Essentials for communicating change, and obviously message going out weekly, even if there's nothing else to communicate, but just being that, marker as it's still happening. Is there kind of a few other things that businesses should have in [00:19:00] place as a, a start for 10?

    Jenni: Yeah, I think it's the consistency for sure. You know, whether it's weekly, fortnightly, monthly, whatever it is, be consistent. There has to be a human element to it. So don't rely on emails, you know, there has to be phone calls, there has to be, you know, town calls. There has to be conversation. Make sure that your line managers are equipped.

    So there should always be. , you know, in, in my world there's always a key message document. There's always a q and a document. There's always a plan. And that q and a is something that you might want to talk through with line managers so that they're briefed ahead of everybody else. So that's always something that I would, I would kind of advocate for to help them manage everybody else cuz line managers are often, they've forgotten, layer in the organization.

    So I would always have those things and I think being realistic and I think coaching leaders to be realistic about, you know, actually what, what we're embarking on here, what, what you can expect to see that education around, you know, how we work as human beings. The change curve, take the time to do a bit of that.

    I think sometimes we [00:20:00] don't get the opportunity to have that conversation with leaders and it's really important for them to understand. And I know I'm sitting here as a consultant saying, have this conversation with leaders and there'll be people listening, going, oh, I would love to, but I don't get the opportunity. Or they're not interested. You know, there's always a way, and I say this as someone that's had, you know, some horrendous experiences. There's always a way to, navigate your way to have that conversation. And if you're struggling with that, then, there's some, there's some ways we could, we could talk about that and I'll, I'll pop some links in the show notes that might be helpful for an opportunity to have that conversation.

    Because we have to do that, that has to be, you know, a big part of what we do. So those are the things that I would be looking at, say line managers, make sure you've got your key messages and your q and a. Uh, make sure that leaders are, are being coached and supported and be consistent. 

    Scott: Super. Well, I guess that's also the next question. In a nutshell, one, What's the key thing to focus on. There you go. 

    Jenni: So yeah, I think like I've answered it already, . I think, you know, in a, I think there's just, there's probably one [00:21:00] thing for me in a, in a nutshell, , is remembering that we are human beings. And I think when you work in a large organization and you work in a more kind of remote fashion, it's very easy to dehumanize an organization. and that's not helpful. So the more we can do to, to remember that and to bring that front and center and whatever you need to do differently to, make that change, it is something that I would encourage everyone to just, just think about that. I remember there used to be stories in a, you know, you'd, you'd have the boardroom and somebody would bring in an empty chair, and the empty chair would represent, you know, the frontline worker so that you'd have a sort of physical representation of the person that you are maybe thinking of, or just to have that top of mind. how do you do that in an online space? How do you make sure that we are thinking in a more human way, and not just focused on the task? And, and I think that's the piece that I would really make sure that we're doing. 

    Vic: Thank you so much, Jenny, for being on the show again, and 

    Jenni: Thank you for having me.

    Vic: It's been really, really [00:22:00] insightful and obviously we'll pop all the resources in the show notes and your website, your podcast. Obviously there's lots of resources on oak.com and if people want to head to our social channels, you can keep it with the conversation there. So thank you for coming on Comms in a nutshell, 

    Jenni: thank you for having me.

    Vic: We hope you enjoyed this episode. Make sure you subscribe to us on our social media channels, and your favorite podcast player to get all the latest Comms In A Nutshell content. If you want to learn more about how an internet can transform employee engagement and streamline your communications, Why not head to our website and book a demo with one of our experts?

    Scott: So go ahead, give us a follow and we'll see you for our next episode.




    Vic is one of Oaks Content Marketing Specialists. She specialises in communication and marketing and is also a host on the Comms In A Nutshell podcast for Internal Comms & HR professionals.