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How to use biases when managing change

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

What do COVID-19, the Russia-Ukraine war, and rising interest rates have in common? They are events external to your business that inevitably result in having to manage CHANGE.

Shifts require effort, as they inevitably involve adjustments in your thinking and doing. By its very purpose, it disrupts your routine. Changing challenges people to take a different approach even when they are not ultimately responsible for making the decision.

a clock in the shape of a cog, with an arrow pointing to the right

Going into the new phase of a project or starting a new financial year gives you a chance to go back and review how things went. It is also the perfect time to identify improvement opportunities – thus helping managing change.

This approach seems reasonably straightforward, but the reality can be far from it: research has indicated that people tend to have a negative bias when faced with the prospect of change. People tend to see a star performer that starts to log worse results as going downward, and average collaborators doing well are seen as just being lucky.

This perception that people are more likely to see shifts from a downside spectrum translates into a more negative approach towards change – and worse results.

Conversely, the success rate becomes significantly higher if a change driver neutralises the negative bias. In a study from the University of Chicago, researchers informed participants that most people who decide to change would succeed. The result? Study participants were quicker to identify the positive outcomes of change rather than having a negative focus on it.

Championing an optimistic approach is a simple but effective strategy when driving and managing change. You will be surprised how much the positive bias will improve the outcome.

Are you interested in reading more about the subject?

Studies around perceived change from Ed O’Brien, Assistant Professor of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Harvard Business Review article Stop Using the Excuse “Organisational Change is Hard” by Nick Tasler

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