(Behavioral) Change management demystified

This is article 1 in our series on organizational change management informed by brain and behavior insights. You can find an overview of the articles below:

  1. (Behavioral) Change Management Demystified
  2. Behaviorally Informed Change Models for Today’s VUCA Environment
  3. 7 Principles for Behaviorally Informed Change Management (almost ready)
  4. … more coming soon

Change comes in many forms and under different circumstances. It moves by stealth or takes you by surprise. Change drivers are social, economical, political and technological influences that force organizations to adapt or become obsolete. Managing change is therefore essential.

Change management is a complex issue, both to fully understand and to manage well. Many organizations have change management on the agenda run by teams or experts. Understanding how to manage organizational change, however, is a key skill for any manager.

Change management demystified

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  • What is (organizational) change management?
  • How does organizational change happen?
  • What are common types of change projects?
  • How do brain and behavior insights
    drive effective and lasting change?

We wrote this  article to help you better understand change management in organizations and the role of brain and behavior insights. You will find many helpful answers to your questions:

  • What is (organizational) change management?
  • How does organizational change happen?
  • What are common types of change projects?
  • How do brain and behavior insights drive effective and lasting change?

What is (Organizational) Change Management?

Organizations change all the time. Strategy needs to be adapted to new or evolving markets.  The culture adapts to shifts in norms, values and attitudes, and new technology replaces the old.

Organizational Change Management (OCM) is the field of business that drives positive, effective, and lasting change in organizations. What does all organizational change have in common? To us it concerns people and how it impacts on their way of working, job fulfillment, productivity, and much more.

Covering many management activities such as stakeholder alignment and ensuring leadership buy-in, communication, driving adoption or behavioral change, and measuring progress to adapt the change strategy.

How does organizational change happen?

Change involves the entire organization. When it’s a big change in a large organization, this can impact thousands of people across dozens of countries. What we usually tend to forget when talking about OCM is that each and everyone of these people is someone like you. An individual with needs, desires, motivations and unique experiences.

These people belong to teams which are grouped in departments or belong to business units. Each team, department or business unit also has its unique way of working. All of these entities are connected by relationships, processes, and technologies. And that’s just one organization, often there are also partners, suppliers, and other stakeholders to consider.

Organizational change teams are responsible for connecting the dots and lines in this dynamic and constantly changing system. Larger organizations tend to have dedicated change management or organizational design teams whereas smaller organizations tend to rely on management, Human Resources and (Internal) Communications teams.

What are common types of change management projects?

One of the key challenges of organizational change management is that change comes in so many flavors. For instance, driving the adoption of a new software tool does not require the same skill set as aligning stakeholders with a new strategy or instilling and improving a growth mindset in your people. It is therefore useful to be able to categorize change before you start.

Here are some of the types of change projects you can regularly observe:

  1. Strategy deployment
  2. People & culture change
  3. Process optimizations
  4. Digital transformation
  5. Restructuring (and M&A)

Types of change projects

  1. Strategy deployment
  2. People & culture change
  3. Process optimizations
  4. Digital transformation
  5. Restructuring (and M&A)

1. Strategy deployment & the big picture

Implementing a new strategy often impacts multiple areas like people, process, technology, and organizational design. Good strategy takes into account the entire organization and the impact on all areas. The changes can be so big by themselves that they are managed as individual change projects. But must be viewed by management as a whole.

Change management driven by strategy deployment is focused on the big picture. The biggest challenge is to make sure all individual change projects and initiatives remain aligned with the overarching strategy. How do we align the various changes? Does our culture match well with them? Do we get feedback so we can adapt our change strategy on the go?

If you have the change management competencies and skill set in-house, this type of change is often best managed by a competent internal team, perhaps partnering with external partners for domain expertise and an outside view.

2. People & culture change

Nearly all change impacts people but some projects are exclusively focused on transforming human capital. People might need to gain new competencies and skills, there could be a need for more growth mindset thinking, or the teams could benefit from more diversity to draw on a broader pool of knowledge, experience, and network.

Cultural change is some of the hardest changes out there and using outdated models and best-practices can really backfire. Asking the right questions helps getting a clearer picture.  Do people have a say in how the change will affect them? What habits might form resistance? Should we focus on increasing motivation, lowering friction, or ensuring the right triggers are in place?

We might be biased here but given the low success rate of cultural change (~19%), it seems wise to make sure you have someone on your change team who focuses on aligning culture-changing interventions with insights from behavioral psychology and neuroscience. We would love to provide you with the most relevant insights.

3. Process optimizations

Process changes happen constantly at all levels, even individually. The value of a change management team is in facilitating the adoption of new processes and aligning them with one another and the overall business strategy. Most of the process optimizations are incremental and occasionally a radical change comes along that, in turn, will require other processes to align with it.

This ever-changing cycle of process optimizations means that change managers can benefit from an agile approach to project management and design-led thinking that prioritizes experimentation over set-in-stone plans.

4. Digital transformation

Technology is improving ever-faster and this has many implications for organizations. These projects can range from implementing a new software (e.g. CRM, ERP) and making your people more tech-savvy or even enabling a fulfilling and productive 

By 2022, many organizations have already set up dedicated digital transformation teams to drive these change projects. They tend to collaborate closely with other teams  (technology, product, HR) to streamline the tech, processes, and way of working, such as  working-from-home environments with the right technology stack.

We are convinced that the toughest challenges in digital transformations are often not technical, but behavioral. When there seems to be a particularly big people component to the change, we would love to discuss how we can empower you to overcome the challenges you face.

5. Restructuring (and Mergers & Acquisitions)

Nothing has a deeper and more lasting impact on organizations than mergers or acquisitions. In M&A change projects there is the added complexity of integrating two or more different corporate cultures. 

Technically these are different projects but from a change management perspective, they tend to overlap. In both mergers and acquisitions, restructuring the organization will affect many aspects of people’s daily lives like where they work, who their team members are, who their direct colleagues are, and what new technology or processes they need to work with.

Restructuring-type change projects have many operational details and should always include an internal change team that collaborates with domain specialists.

Other types of change management projects

There are plenty of other types of change management that are more business- or industry-specific but business tends to follow power distributions or pareto’s laws and we believe the above categories cover at least 80% of change projects. Knowing these will empower you to make distinctions.

The role of brain & behavior in change management

As you might have noticed throughout this article, good organizational change management is human-centric. Surely, technology and processes might be replaced but it is the people who have to adapt their decisions and behavior.

This leads us to the question: “are the key models and best-practices in change management up-to-date with cutting-edge behavioral, cognitive, and neuroscience?”. In other words: “are we using all the insights science gave us about the behavior of humans?”. The answer to both questions seems to be a clear ‘no’.

In the last three decades, we learned a lot about how humans tend to be predictably irrational. You might have heard of System 1 & 2, Cognitive biases, or nudges. These and other revolutionary ideas should be integrated with the science of organizational change management. This is where we at Neurofied come in.

Behavioral change management explained

Behavioral change management is our approach to OCM that is informed by insights from behavioral- and neuroscience. In our method, we partner with managers, the internal teams and stakeholders responsible for change management within your organization. We can support you both strategically and operationally.

Some of the ways in which you can expect us to add value to your change management:

  • Validating your approach and plans with science-backed insights
  • Transforming behavioral insights into tailored change solutions
  • Managing the behavioral risk of your change project
  • Aligning with key stakeholders and integrating their feedback
  • Creating, refining, and implementing the communication strategy
  • Driving the adoption of new ways of working, processes, or technology
  • Measuring progress and adapting the change strategy based on needs
  • Designing, testing, and scaling interventions that enable lasting, positive change

Hopefully this article has helped you understand more about change management in practice and how this field is being reshaped through scientific progress in behavioral- and neuroscience.

About Neurofied

Neurofied is a management consulting and training company specialized in Brain & Behavior. We help teams and organizations design, implement, and optimize their change management, growth strategy, learning & development and much more with insights from behavioral psychology and neuroscience.

Since 2018, we have trained 1500+ professionals and worked with 50+ teams of companies like ABN AMRO, Tesla, Calvin Klein, and Adidas. We are also frequent speakers at universities and conferences.

If you see any opportunities to collaborate, please contact us here.


Beirem Ben Barrah

Founder & CEO at Neurofied

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