Change: Meeting the 5 Fundamental Needs

Many project managers and team leaders learn the hard way that effectively anticipating and managing resistance to change is the key to a smooth and sustainable execution.

Let’s face it. We’re hard wired to associate change with loss. Our brain has roughly 5 times more neural networks to detect threats than rewards or opportunities.

So how can you help others manage this natural resistance to change?

One helpful framework based on an understanding of how our brains are wired to react to change is David Rock’s SCARF model.

The SCARF acronym is based on 5 social needs our brains are constantly filtering our experiences through to determine if something is a threat or an opportunity.  By considering these 5 needs, you can help your team be more positive, focused, productive, and collaborative through change.

What are these needs?
1. Status
Status essentially reflects how much a person feels respected and valued.
Ways you can help support this need:
•    Frame the past way of doing things positively, especially if they were part of building that past project or process
•    Ask for input on how to best implement a change in their area
•    Involve them in the project, and share how their current work aligns with helping the organization achieve a strategic objective
•    Praise team members publicly for taking actions that support the change
•    Applaud them for showing improvement, or for working to develop their skills

2. Certainty
The brain likes certainty, and without it, people speculate and become anxious.
Ways you can help support this need:
•    Provide open and consistent information about what will be changed, why, and what the impact will be for them personally
•    When there is no information to be shared, or if decisions are still in the works, communicate that fact as well, and let them know when you hope to have more answers
•    Make it clear what WONT be changing
•    Provide them a timeline for how a change will be implemented, and regular updates if the schedule shifts

3. Autonomy
Autonomy is our need to have control over our own lives.
Ways you can help support this need:
•    Make change communication a two way dialogue, creating space for questions.
•    Instead of assigning tasks related to a change and imposing a due date, make a request and allow the person to commit to an action and due date that satisfies both of you
•    Allow negotiation. Often the people most affected by a change can provide elegant ways to accomplish it that leaders of change over look

4. Relatedness
This need is our sense of belonging or connectedness to a group or team.
Ways you can help support this need:
•    Give team members time to connect socially with leaders and to discuss the change
•    Have team meetings to share their best practices and lessons
•    Celebrate the small wins with everyone through the change process
•    Host a celebratory meeting/event when you reach a key milestone and acknowledge everyone’s contribution

5. Fairness
In times of change, our brains need to know that the outcome of a change and the process for reaching that outcome will be fair. Our brains are great at detecting when a change will impact us unfairly.
Ways you can help support this need:
•    Communicate a clear business case for why a change is occurring
•    Consult with people early, and invite them to be part of the change design
•    Focus on transparency with the process and the results
•    Encourage people to come forward if they perceive unfairness

So what’s the bottom line here?

Your brain and the brains of the people that you interact with each day are strongly influenced by how it perceives the social environment in which you operate.

Best way to start using SCARF is to just get more curious.  Expect resistance, even when a change seems positive to you.  Take the time to understand what motivates (or de-motivates) people and anticipate whether your plan will encourage adoption of the change. When someone gets upset or annoyed, try to identify what’s behind it.  Which of their SCARF needs could have been triggered?  What questions could I ask to help clarify what is behind that need?  How can I provide them with ways to meet that need?

The benefits of a change will only be reaped when a greater percentage of your employees are willing to embrace change and influence their counterparts to join in as well. This will happen when your employees perceive the overall change as rewarding, not only to the organization, but also to themselves.

Russell Hunter


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