Navigating the Psychology of Operational Business Transformation


    Operational business change is a complex process that requires a thorough understanding of the human factors involved. Applying psychological phenomena to real life change initiatives can explain why people think and act as they do. 

    There is an increasing requirement to improve organisational performance and, in this blog, I will delve into the various psychological factors that come into play during a change initiative. From resistance to change, motivation and communication strategies, I’ll explore the key psychological concepts that can make or break a business transformation.  By understanding the psychology behind operational business change, you'll be better equipped to navigate the challenges and maximise the chances of success. 

    Broadly speaking, organisations can undergo business change through two perspectives: top-down and bottom-up. The decision surrounding the approach can depend on several factors: 

    • Speed of implementation – how much time does the organisation have to implement the change? Top down is often faster to implement? 
    • Finances – Various factors can influence the finances available from one organisation to another; Time available to implement, current economic state, senior management priorities, time of year due to the time difference to implement, bottom-up change may cost more to implement. 
    • The extent of the change – does the change encompass vast macro variables or is the change more narrowly focused? 
    • Relationships with operational staff – opportunities for communication across departments, management levels, or geographical location can impact on how frontline staff receive the change. It is however important to note, that employees at all levels may be averse to change, for example some members of senior management may sometimes be superseded.  

    These factors are essential to the success of the operational business change: 

    • Understanding the need for organisational change 
    • Planning for organisational change 
    • Communicating change to the organisation 
    • Implementing organisational change transformations  
    • Sustaining organisational change transformations 

    Understanding the Need for Organisational Change

    The need for change can vary widely, however, it is vital that high-level management effectively communicate the need for the change, addressing any questions employees may have to ensure alignment throughout the organisation. Consequently, this will provide clarity and transparency for frontline employees, boosting buy-in. In addition, management should define the current problem faced by the organisation, as well as the benefits of the proposed change, not only at an organisational level, but also from the perspective of the employee, to best demonstrate the need for organisational change.  

    By virtue, understanding the behaviours of employees incorporates psychological theories as a way of understanding their actions or thoughts. Employees' ability to relate to the need for organisational change is linked to Social Identity Theory. This theory suggests that change initiatives should align with employees' values and goals, which senior management must demonstrate to ensure buy-in from each stakeholder group.

    Planning for Organisational Change

    As part of a successful business transformation initiative, it’s important to provide a clear roadmap for organisational change, including timelines, milestones, and responsibilities. This will help employees understand what is expected of them and how the change will be implemented. Depending on the scope of the change, it may be necessary to create a change management team and develop a detailed plan to implement the necessary changes. Additionally, it is vital that the governance strategy in place is adhered to, with it being suitable for monitoring and assessing the progress of the change initiative. 




    Communicating Change to the Organisation 

    Stakeholders may feel anxious or resistant to change (this is common), particularly if they feel their concerns or perspectives have not been adequately addressed or they do not understand the rationale behind the changes. Communication through every stage of the change process is vital to its success. This can come in the form of monthly newsletters, regular presentations, and emails. Displaying transparency throughout the process increases the trust employees have in management, linking back to Social Identity Theory, with individuals able to align their goals and values naturally to proposed change. 

    Often frontline staff will consider ‘what’s in it for me?’. It’s important that the change management team answer this question strongly. There are some common thoughts from frontline staff; will it make my job easier? Is it clearer what my job is? Will I improve my ability to do my job (upskilled)? Answering these questions will increase the chances of individual’s social identity matching the organisations.  

    Implementing Organisational Change Transformations

    Implementing organisational change can be a complex and challenging process that can impact the behaviours of employees in various ways. This may include resistance, fear, uncertainty, lack of motivation or adaptation. Each of these feelings should be addressed throughout the process, whether that’s negating them or making them identifiable to other employees. Individuals that exude flexibility and willingness should form the change management team, with them driving the change, motivating other individuals to recognise the benefits of the change. 


    Creating effective performance measures which drive optimum behaviours is never easy and we need to constantly evolve our metrics as the needs of customers and the business change. These 5 questions can be viewed as a checklist for reviewing the effectiveness of KPIs and may help when coaching individuals who are deciding which measures to put in place.

    Effective measures are a necessity for any Operations Excellence improvement initiative. Not only will they help track the success of change, they also will help support the focus and drive on the most important elements in the future. Remember if the measures do not change, it is unlikely the behaviours will.

    Conditioning and positive reinforcement theories, such as Skinner's theory of Operant Conditioning, suggest that reporting structures, management and operational processes, and measurement procedures (such as KPI targets and financial rewards) should be consistent with the behaviours that employees are asked to adopt. For example, if managers are asked to promote junior staff, but coaching doesn’t feature in the scorecard of the manager’s performance, they are likely to be unmotivated to complete these tasks to a high standard. 


    Sustaining Organisational Change Transformations 

    Organisations often have reservations when undergoing change, that the change won’t be sustained over a prolonged period. Sustaining the change requires planning and embedding, and in our experience, this is often where change initiatives fail.  

    At Reinvigoration, we strongly believe in sustaining change initiatives, as we offer to future-proof excellence through our purpose-built OpX platform, without encountering high consultancy fees. 

    To successfully sustain change, it is vital that individuals understand the culture of the organisation and they believe in the values to sustain the change over a prolonged period. This requires current and new employees to be provided with the right training, coaching and guidance to support employees to adjust to the new way of doing things. Additionally, it can be the responsibility of hiring managers and HR to ensure individuals being employed by the company display the cultural values of the organisation, to reduce the chance of individuals with opposing views to affect the success of the change. 

    In conclusion, the psychology behind operational business change is critical to the success of any transformation initiative. It requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account both the tangible and intangible factors of the initiative. 

    It is vital that the whole organisation understands the need to change and the employees’ views and opinions are considered at every stage with clear communication throughout.  

    Ultimately, the key to success is to create a culture that values and supports change. By fostering a growth mindset, encouraging open communication, and investing in employee training and development, you can build a workforce that is adaptable and resilient in the face of change. 

    Operational business change is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. By applying the lessons learned from the psychology of change, you can ensure that your organisation is well-equipped to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead. 

    How can we help? 

    As experts in operations transformation, our Reinvigoration consultants are experienced in cultural transformation and changing mindset and behaviours. We can help you formulate and implement the right strategy and develop a highly engaged and capable workforce. In addition we can equip you with the tools and ways of working to sustain change through our OpX Platform. 

    Picture of Ben Chadwick

    Ben Chadwick

    Ben is a Junior Consultant at Reinvigoration and has a keen passion for people-centred change, having completed a master's in Organisational Psychology.


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