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ATD Blog

A Brain-Based Approach to Change Management

BK
Thursday, May 5, 2022
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Today’s world is changing so fast. As soon as you feel you’ve caught up, another crisis knocks you for a loop. In this environment, there’s a heightened danger that we’ll fail to adapt quickly enough. Inability or unwillingness to keep pace with change can leave us feeling incapable of moving forward.

If you can relate, Victoria Grady, an assistant professor of management at George Mason University, has some consolation for you. Being stuck isn’t a sign that’s something wrong with you. It’s related to how our brains are wired. The even better news? If you understand the possibilities of the brain, you can climb out of the rut and help other people—even entire organizations—do the same.

Grady’s new book, Stuck: How to WIN at Work by Understanding LOSS, is the result of years of research and writing with her co-author Patrick McCreesh. Stuck plumbs an area of psychology known as attachment theory, which was first developed in the mid-20th century by John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst.

Big organizational change, such as shifting to remote/in-person hybrid working or business model transformation, inevitably disturbs employees, customers, and shareholders who are attached (in other words, “stuck”) to the status quo. There are various attachment styles, though, that people learn from early childhood. Your attachment style is deeply ingrained within your personality and will dictate your particular type of stuck-ness.

Grady and McCreesh identified four attachment styles: stable, autonomous, distracted, and insecure. They write, “There is no right type of attachment style, and each provides different value in different situations.”

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A stable attachment style arises from having been given a secure base for attachments in early childhood—attentive parents or other caregivers—and is conducive to positive and productive relationships in life and work. Autonomous attachment styles are the product of a childhood where one has learned to be independent emotionally—these individuals often have admirable attention spans but can struggle to connect with others. Distracted attachment styles lean toward the opposite extreme: intense dependence on the support of others and strong relational orientation. Finally, insecure attachment styles veer toward social anxiety that can lead either to hypersensitivity and burnout or (with the help of a smart manager) unswerving organizational loyalty.

Managers who know the attachment styles of their team members can provide psychological shelter through the storm of change.

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Sometimes leaders themselves can fulfill that critical function. “Organizations can do better for change efforts by more effectively aligning leaders and followers based on attachment styles to create a better sense of comfort through change,” the authors write.

Grady says that Stuck is also pertinent for companies looking to hold onto their talent amid the Great Resignation. The pandemic played havoc with people’s workplace attachments. Using herself as an example, Grady says, “The commute for me was the biggest loss. I was so used to the hour it took me to get to the office—I would think, talk, record stuff—I loved that time. … We are attached to our routines. So many of my friends have lunch voids; they didn’t know how to have lunch by themselves. The organization has to respond to the changing environment.”

BK
About the Author

Benjamin Kessler is the research communications and outreach officer for Mason’s School of Business. Previously, he was the web editor for INSEAD Knowledge, the “business school for the world” conducting research and innovation for transforming business and society.

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