Annalena Bergen on readiness for change, project characteristics, stress and how those affected can also become supporters in large, drastic change projects.
Ralph Durst: As a project manager for organizational projects, you have many points of contact with the topic of change. We have already experienced in many joint projects how important people's willingness to change can be for the success of a project. During the last year you have dealt with the topic intensively from a scientific perspective, why?
Annalena Bergen: I have always felt the need to make a difference - to develop organizations. As a young professional, however, I realized right from the start of my first projects that this only works if the people involved get on board.
Ralph Durst:That means you have negative experience with it?
Annalena Bergen: One or the other - yes. We both know that. No sooner has a new software been introduced because the previous one was labeled as outdated and unusable, than the menu navigation of the old software is already missed in the training sessions on the new tool and the usability of the new solution is criticized.
Ralph Durst: And most of the time it's not the usability at all, but something else. And you have investigated this from a scientific point of view. What came out of your analysis?
Annalena Bergen: In my research, employees have shown a significantly higher commitment to change when the projects were initiated from within the organization. I have also noticed: The greater the changes, the lower the willingness to change. And this is mainly due to the growing stress that people are exposed to. These findings may sound trivial at first, but on closer inspection they become interesting.
"Stress caused by large organizational changes that is triggered is almost always negative stress."
Ralph Durst: That does sound familiar. What were the things behind it?
Annalena Bergen: Especially stress. With which, after all, everyone deals differently. Many believe that change also releases positive energy and a sense of optimism among employees. But the unfortunate reality is that the stress caused by major organizational change is almost always negative stress. And thus also perceived as a great burden.
Ralph Durst: Personally, I tend to see change in a positive light, because it is supposed to make a difference and improve things. But big changes that turn entire organizations upside down naturally don't sit well with everyone. How do you deal with it now?
Annalena Bergen: I think that already the initiation and structuring of projects can significantly influence the readiness for change. And since it is clear that projects from within tend to be more supported and better received, we should be launching many more initiatives from within the organization and the divisions themselves.
Ralph Durst: And as for the scope of the change?
Annalena Bergen: Many small changes are better than the big bang. This means that where possible, change should be broken down into individual smaller steps and made digestible. This can increase the willingness to change enormously.
"The employee who in principle has no desire for change, is a myth."
Ralph Durst: However, this is not possible in all cases, so what can be done?
Annalena Bergen: Directly address the increased stress levels that result from major change. So in project implementation, make sure that those affected are consistently relieved elsewhere. Or that the direct managers in this phase support your employees even more, also interpersonally. In addition, the intensive involvement of employees in the project from the very beginning helps - as is actually always the case.
Ralph Durst: That sounds coherent and helpful. But what about the colleagues who have no desire for change in principle?
Annalena Bergen: I think it is a myth that such employees exist. It is the circumstances that shape the willingness of people to change. In addition to the project characteristics we just talked about, these include, for example, project content, trust in management, and the perceived fairness with which the change is accomplished. These aspects are good starting points for me as a project manager to increase the readiness for change.
About the person
Annalena Bergen is a project and portfolio manager at Balluff GmbH in Neuhausen/Filder, a leading sensor and automation specialist. Xtentio has supported Balluff in many IT and organizational projects. She studied International Business with a focus on Organization and Change at Maastricht University last year. In her master's thesis, she dealt intensively with the topic of readiness for change in connection with stress and project characteristics.