If the retail industry was going through stormy weather for the past decade, now it’s going through a hurricane brought by the COVID-19 lockdown. This makes it an extremely challenging time for retail executives to manage change in the best possible way and keep retail alive and vibrant, especially when it comes to the fate of physical stores.
Recently I joined Oliver Banks as a guest on his Retail Transformation Show podcast, where I shared my thoughts about the psychology of change, resistance and emotions.
This blog is a sneak peek of our lively conversation that you can listen to in episode 85, https://obandco.uk/retail-transformation-show/, release date – Monday 8th June 2020.
The emotional side of leading people through change
Following the long period of isolation, many people will feel anxiety and confusion returning to a new workplace that looks different – erected protective screens, colleagues with face masks, monitoring body temperature perhaps – all this of course followed by a hypersensitive attitude toward health risks at work.
If you are tasked with making changes you need to be very understanding of your employees’ emotional reactions and resistance to change which are a normal reaction to the real and perceived disruption that accompanies any change. You also need to be aware that the problem isn’t with the change per se, but change becomes difficult when we focus on the negative aspects of the change thinking how we might lose, instead of win and benefit in the long term.
Change brings uncertainty that the human mind perceives as a threat, so that the resistance to change often stems from people’s fear of not being able to cope with the change or of the possibility that the change may result in the loss of their productivity or even their job. We are hardwired to maintain the status quo, we are programmed to move away from pain, so we tend to avoid uncertainty by staying in our comfort zones.
Like it or not, change is in the air
Whether you are a change manager in retail or any other industry, in order to minimise resistance and start implementing the proposed changes, it’s imperative that you demonstrate the benefits to the staff, the customer, the business, or even the community as a whole. Alongside this, you need to ensure that you understand the different stages of change.
There are six stages in the commonly known model of behaviour change that we psychologists refer to – The Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of change – and here’s a short description of the main characteristics of each:
1st stage Denial – people don’t recognise the problem they have; they might not recognise that their behaviour is damaging. An example might be a person with an addiction. In the business context, an example of denial can be an unwillingness to engage with customers virtually, despite the evidence that consistent positive engagement with customers on social platforms brings the business to the next level.
2nd stage Contemplation – balancing the pros and cons, the loss vs gain calculation underpinned by the ambivalence and conflicting emotions. People are aware that their old habits are being challenged, so you need to help them to find a better alternative, a new way to replace the old ways of doing in order to benefit.
3rd stage Preparation – starting with small steps you are experimenting and preparing for real action. If applied to a business for example, you and your team adopt a problem solving mindset and are becoming more optimistic about the change.
4th stage Action – you take direct action; your team morale is high and you support each other in bringing about the change.
5th stage Maintenance – this is where you want to stick to the implemented change to maintain a new behaviour, and avoid the temptation to relapse, by replacing old habits with more positive actions.
6th stage Relapse – unfortunately, relapses happen for various reasons and bring negative emotions such as disappointment, frustration, a sense of failure, and at this point you need to go through the steps again with an improved or different strategy and tools.
For any change to happen we need to accept it both on the rational and emotional level, and be prepared to leave our comfort zone and take steps into the unknown. We also need to check whether we use defence mechanisms that happen on an unconscious level (such as denial, repression, or rationalization) to avoid leaving our comfort zone, and bring these closer to our conscious mind.
The bottom line however is, you need to clearly demonstrate to your staff, the positive benefits of change and what that will bring to the individuals and the organisation as a whole.