Darwin…the first business guru?…or how to become fit for survival.

Probably the first “guru” in the business world, Darwin understood the importance of adapting to the environment for survival. This concept, which applies to all walks of life, also applies to the corporate world and economics. Yet, despite its logic being obvious to everyone, it is largely ignored when it comes to re-focusing the company strategy or transforming work habits to adapt to new situations.

In the business world, everyone appreciates the ability to adapt, but not everyone practises it. We have seen giant corporations die simply because their products or services were no longer appreciated by consumers. And we have seen businesses growing rapidly coming out of nowhere, with innovative products or services that gained consumers’ acceptance.

Resistance to change is essentially a desire for comfort and it is a pervasive obstacle for many companies and institutions that end up clinging to the past and dying slowly.

One of the reasons why resistance to change is so hard to combat is that doing new things requires a lot of energy. We have to build the neural structure needed to perform these new actions or activities. Repeating the same old actions needs little brainpower. We act on autopilot and neural connections are used to operate very efficiently. When we get out of our comfort zone and do new things our neurons need to make new connections. This requires a big energy expenditure (and we are designed to be efficient).

The result is that we resist doing new things. And, since the driving power of every company and business is people, resistance to change in the business world is widespread.

But we also know that in a competitive economy where customer habits and behaviours are changing faster and faster, we need to move, change , try new things and adopt all the technological changes that give us advantages.

So how can we solve this problem?

Although any change will require a big effort at first, as our neurons get used to working in a new way, the energy expenditure will decrease. As the famous slogan says: “Just do it”. Though it should continue with: “…and do it again, and again, and again…”

In my professional life, I frequently come across strong resistance to change. Even when the change is logical and coherent, people still resist and fight. The excuses are many and on the surface seem reasonable, but on closer inspection the resistance cannot always be explained in a rational manner.

So although changes must be explained from a rational perspective, it is just as important to consider and deal with the emotions aroused.  In 99% of cases the key to overcoming resistance is to work with the emotions.

It’s important is to accompany people who are learning new habits or activities so that their neural structures begin to engage and work in a new way. Energy expenditure is reduced, the change no longer seems threatening or difficult and change is facilitated.

So, in order to ensure a satisfactory and painless behaviour change there are some steps that you need to go through:

1. Before starting anything, put yourself on the shoes of your people and try to feel what they are going to feel when they hear your plan. Make a list of the feeling that you will need to address and plan a strategy to do it.

2. Be transparent when explaining the change process. Credibility is essential for the willingness to change. So do not spare the negative aspects but also make sure that every positive aspect is understood.

3. Open the game for the others to participate. If they can give their input, they’ll be also owners of the idea. Commitment is ensured.

4. Make sure to be there the first, second and third time someone starts a new way to do things. Give advise and support, but more important, let them feel that this is important and they are important.

5. Transmit team spirit. You could be the boss, but you need them as much as they need you. So you are a team, at worse, out of necessity. So make sure that everybody feels involved and part of it.

6. Behaviour change is an emotional process because raises uncertainty and doubts. Try to address those issues giving confidence about the future.

7. Do a very close follow up during all the process and be alert about any deviation from the plan. And make sure that everybody notices that.

8. Finally, be patient but be more persistent. Do not dismay and have full confidence that you are going to get there. Persistence and confidence are contagious, so it will help you and help them.

Adaptability is vital for survival and today that means constant change. A company that is fit and trained on changes has a decisive competitive advantage. And so do the people.