Change management in a surveyors’ practice – Bridging the gap between the old and the new

Posted on: July 27, 2015

Last week I was joined by over 20 surveyors at the first presentation on this new MBL course on “Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors’ practice”. Change management is a key topic.

During the day we covered a lot of material including: business planning, strategy development, management functions, market analysis, service development, promotional marketing strategies, selling and human resources issues (particularly leadership and change management).

As usual, I asked on which topics delegates would most like a blog after the event. There were two requests – bridging the gap between old and new generations and the integration of teams after a merger. I thought I’d tackle them together as there are common themes in what is, in effect, a toolbox for “Change management in a surveyors’ practice”.

What’s the problem? 

When you have two groups of people with different points of view there is a lot that psychology can offer to help bridge the gap. It’s useful to start with an analysis of the specific problem.

Whether it is the young against the old generation, the acquiring partners against the acquired partners or those with an appetite for change and those who’d like to keep things just the same you have people dividing into “groups”. Consider the merits of both perspectives and identify those issues which are the main sticking points.

Think about group behaviour

Human beings are social creatures. We’re “wired” to belong to groups. When we belong to a group, we are likely to derive our sense of identity, at least in part, from that group. We also enhance the sense of identity by making comparisons with “out-groups”.

In-group bias can also occur. If we believe that someone else is in a group to which we belong, we will have positive views of them and give them preferential treatment. This works because we build our self-esteem through belonging, and the presence of someone from an in-group reminds us of that belonging. The opposite of in-group bias is out-group bias where, by inference, out-group people are viewed more negatively and given worse treatment.

So, if you want to avoid a “them and us” situation, you need to form a new group to which everyone belongs.

Appreciate difference

As people we have different personalities, ways of thinking, motivations and styles of communicating. We even have different preferences for how we learn. Sometimes the issue is not with the content (what we hope to achieve in the message) but with the manner in which we communicate.

There are a variety of psychological assessment and other tools to help us understand ourselves better and to learn the strengths and weaknesses of other people’s different approaches and styles. Sometimes we need to adapt or change ourselves before we attempt to change others.

Acknowledge generational differences

An important difference that can have an impact on integration and change programmes is generational. For example, Baby Boomers (born 1940s-1950s) place a high value on effective employee participation and do not object to working long hours whereas Generation X (born 1960s-1970s) enjoy ambiguity and are at ease with insecurity but require proper ‘work-life’ balance and can be resistant to tight control systems and set procedures.

Sometimes it helps to reframe the “old guard” more positively, seeing them as “guardians of tradition” and listening to them to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And maybe reign in the youngsters with a little more thought and structure to what they want to achieve.

Empathy – adopt other peoples’ point of view

I talk about empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ – see http://www.kimtasso.com/faq/emotional-intelligence-eq-important/) in most of my courses. It is a fundamental element in all relationships and is therefore important in marketing and selling as well as topics such as change management.

Often, we are so wrapped up in what we want to do and our own agenda that we fail to consider the point of view of others. The start to building bridges is to see things from the other people’s point of view. This might mean we have to alter our aims and perceptions. Or we may need to adjust our approach to ensure that the things that are important to them are addressed.

The key here is to stop and listen. Really listen to what the other people have to say. Take a look at the material on active listening. The simple act of giving your undivided attention and really hearing what others have to say can sometimes be all that is needed to get through a log-jam situation.

Accept that change is scary

Stepping out of your comfort zone raises anxiety levels and creates a stress response, the result of which can be an enhanced level of concentration and focus but too much is counter-productive.

There are models which look at people’s readiness for change which can help. Similarly, there are models which show how change occurs in individuals – which alternates between positive and negative energy and includes stages such as shock, denial, anger, blame, resentment, conflict, depression, self-blame, lack of confidence, poor performance before moving on to experimentation, learning, feedback, acceptance and letting go of old habits. 

You’ll need to plan for each stage of the change process – and some may progress through this faster than others.

Use influencing skills

There are numerous blogs about persuasion and influence (see, for example, http://www.kimtasso.com/top-tips-on-the-psychology-of-persuasion/)  and a number of signposts to good books on the subject.

But in a professional partnership, many people find the influence-impact matrix helpful. In effect, you segment your internal stakeholder audience and develop a different approach depending on the degree of impact any change will have on them and their influence within the partnership.

Remember to identify your “power partners” who you must get onside (the power of role model is important for getting their teams to co-operate) and the “dinosaurs” who you need to tread around carefully. Find and work with your champions and sponsors too.

Develop negotiating skills

Looking at negotiating skills, there are useful techniques from separating the position from the issues. If you focus on the positions that people have adopted, it is likely that they will become entrenched.

So good negotiators will do a number of things. They will focus on the issues and enable everyone to contribute to finding a solution. They will strive for a win:win situation – where everyone feels that they have succeeded and no one feels that they have lost.

Use NLP insights – find a common goal

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP – see http://www.kimtasso.com/what-is-nlp-neuro-linguistic-programming/) suggests that everyone works from some positive intent. So while you might think people are just being “difficult”, they are actually trying to convey and preserve something that they see as important. Empathy skills are used to understand different perspectives and to “chunk up” to common goals.

Provide psychological safety and help people save face

When people are faced with a change they will have conflicting emotions – a commitment to the past and a new view of the future. This is called “cognitive dissonance”:

“Mental stress or discomfort is experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values”

Find ways to help accommodate new ideas within old ways of thinking. Provide psychological safety where risks are minimised (this may include training and coaching) and a path for people to adopt new behaviours without being perceived as “losing face” from making the transition.

Deal with resistance to change

In any change management in a surveyor’s practice there will be resistance. I’ve written in the past about resistance to change – which occurs both on an individual and an organisational basis. Dealing with resistance to change is addressed by Cotter and Schlesinger who explore a number of strategies:

  • Education and communication
  • Participation and involvement
  • Facilitation and support
  • Negotiation and agreement
  • Manipulation and co-operation
  • Explicit and implicit coercion

There is also material on conflict management: http://www.kimtasso.com/nine-ideas-for-better-conflict-management/

Change management

As we discussed at the course, change management is a big topic. There are various sources of further information in the blog (see, for example, http://www.kimtasso.com/reflections-on-managing-change-and-leadership/)

Feedback from the session was really positive and included comments such as:

“Excellent delivery and clearly on top of the subject”

“Great mix of lectures and hands-on exercises”

“Liked the social media section”

“Excellent and very engaging”

“Great content and covered lots of different angles”

“Interactive stuff with other delegates really useful”

 “Excellent – very worthwhile”

Further details of the MBL “Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors practice” are here: https://www.mblseminars.com/Outline?progid=5865&AddSeminarToBasket=1027490

Currently planned dates are:

22nd September – Manchester

13th October – Birmingham

2nd December – London

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