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  • Tamar Balkin

Is change always for the better?

Photo by Marc Rafanell López on Unsplash

There is a constant push for change in order to disrupt markets and be ahead of the competition. Kodak and Nokia are repeatedly presented as examples of cautionary tales of what may happen if companies do not embrace innovation. However, is change always necessary and recommended? Did the Australian banks go too far by diversification? Should the large accounting firms be pushing into new markets by acquisitions? My expertise is not in business and therefore I shall not provide answers to the above questions, yet as an Organisational Psychologist I am well aware of the almost addictive power of the strong positive emotions that often accompany a new idea. Many readers would have experienced a decisive 'ah ha moment' that puts a spring back in their step, has their brain working at 100km/hour and appears to be 'perfect'. Yet it is possible that emotions have hijacked the decision-making process and perhaps change is being pursued for the wrong reasons. Whilst I am certain that my readers are intelligent, rational and have excellent business expertise, occasionally our decisions are hijacked by the following traps:

  • stress

  • fear

  • ignorance

  • bias

  • assumptions

  • pressure

  • lack of time

  • groupthink

  • boredom

Before you rule out boredom, remember it doesn't necessarily come from idleness. There are many people who are extremely busy and overwhelmed by their work and personal commitments, yet they are 'bored'. Often in coaching my clients have major decision to make, and they are well aware that typically I don’t give advice but prefer to guide them through a rational decision-making process. Whilst there are many effective logical methods to make decisions, I thought it may be interesting to readers to share my approach. (This approach has been influenced by the literature on decision making, and job satisfaction, as well as coaching paradigms taught to me by Tony Grant and Michael Cavanagh.)

  • Identify your values: Be very clear as to what really matters to you and the organisation

  • List your biases

  • Document all internal and external stakeholders who will be directly and indirectly impacted

  • Generate multiple alternatives: In my experience people fall short in the idea generation phase, and mistakenly believe that consideration of one or two alternatives to the status quo is sufficient. To increase the options, try the following:

  • Ask “what else”?

  • Challenge yourself to generate options that are missing a common ingredient- eg car without petrol or electricity.

  • Research the alternatives: Bias can creep in at this stage, be mindful when you are consulting with others, and looking at data and evidence that you are seeking objective information not just validating your preferred choice.

  • Write the pros and cons of each option, including the status quo.

At this point things get complicated… What should you do with the pros and cons list? The values clarification, and identification of biases and stakeholders should help you to understand the weight you may be placing on the different pros and cons. In my opinion, the pros and cons process should open your eyes to the consequences of your decision, rather than necessarily direct the decision. Why are we encouraged to sleep on a problem, with the hope we will wake up with the perfect solution? Anecdotally there is a widespread belief that: “People possess a powerful, sophisticated, adaptive unconscious that is crucial for survival in the world” (Wilson 2002, p. vii) and that we should think less rather than more about complex decisions (Dijksterhuis et al. 2006b).” For decades, psychologists have debated the different roles of the conscious and the unconscious in complex decision-making. A comprehensive review of this literature was conducted by Newell and Shanks, they argue that we place too much importance on the power of the unconscious in decision making as the research is inconclusive. Suggesting that a combination of following logical processes and taking time to reflect may be most beneficial. (Please email me if you would like a PDF of the article). So, perhaps next time you are considering making a major change to your life or work be truly honest with yourself and as Aesop cautioned, "look before you leap". ______________ References and Further reading: Dawis, Lofquist, and Weiss (1968) A theory of Work Adjustment(A revision) Minnesota studies in vocational rehabilitation.xxiii Cavanagh, M.J. (2013). The Coaching Engagement in the Twenty-first Century: New Paradigms for Complex Times. In Clutterbuck, David and Megginson (2013) Beyond Goals Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring Chuang, S (2007) Sadder but Wiser or Happier and Smarter? A Demonstration of Judgment and Decision Making. The Journal of Psychology Provincetown Vol. 141 1, 63-76. Heath and Heath (2013) Decisive How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Newell, B.R and Shanks D.R (2014) Unconscious influences on decision making: A critical review, Journal of behavioural and brain sciences 37,1-61

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