Remember Psychological Factors

The bad news is that I seem to be falling further back into bad habits (such as over-reliance on quoted material) the longer I spend writing. I seem to lose interest in processing the material any further actually.

The good news is that even after cutting my outline by more than half, now that I am writing it’s clear that I will be able to cut the content of the paper by almost half again and still fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

Below is section seven of ten on remembering psychological factors – or on staying firmly grounded in reality and creating psychological safety for the members of the organization. Enjoy… if you are so inclined. :)

Now, if I can write for just over two more hours I’ll actually meet my goal for the week. That might just translate into getting section eight up tonight… even if it is slightly reduced in quality.

7. Remember Psychological Factors

Evans (1996) warns that “when we are trying to understand people’s resistance to change, it is never just the logical we are dealing with but the psychological” (p. 26). Change agents who are able to heed this warning will be better able to cope with resistance to organizational change.

Many organizational change theorists, including Evans, cite Senge’s (1990) seven degrees of support for change initiatives (p. 219-220). The possible attitudes that an individual can have toward a change initiative Senge sorted into three categories, which can be described as committed, compliant, and noncompliant. Within the committed category, people can be truly committed, or merely enrolled, in which case they still want the change to happen. Within the compliant category, people can be genuinely compliant, formally compliant, or grudgingly compliant depending on the degree to which they see the benefits of the vision. Finally, in the noncompliant category, people can be noncompliant, or even simply apathetic about the change. Being able to understand where members of an organization fit on this scale, and how they might be moved, is important for a change agent to be successful.

In order to help people move toward greater commitment, change agents would do well to reject “easy optimism” (Evans, 1996, p. xiv); it only raises hopes and encourages later frustration when the inevitable challenges appear. Instead, Evans suggested that “a genuine respect for the sober realities of experience is crucial to success” (p. xv). He called for change agents to “counter naive assumptions… [because] reform, if it is to succeed, must accept the realities of human nature” (p. 51). He acknowledged that change agents must “straddle a fault line between pressure and support, change and continuity” (p. 58). But this balance is critical. Members of an organization must trust a change agent or leader. As Evans pointed out, “people assess the desirability of any change not just by its ‘what’ but also by its ‘who.’ A change proposed by someone we trust and respect is more credible than it would be if proposed by someone we distrust” (p. 83). Therefore, “mistrust is a primary issue that must be resolved first” (p. 126). In general, “change must be accompanied by a high degree of both psychological safety and professional safety. Without this, change is unlikely, no matter how intensely people are pressured to alter their practice” (p. 86).

This sort of psychological safety must permeate the culture of the organization, especially during professional development efforts. Evans (1996) explained that “to help teachers develop new competence, training must be coherent, personal, and continuous” (p. 63, emphasis added). Furthermore, “training must include continuing opportunities for teachers to consider, discuss, argue about, and work through changes in their assumptions. Without this, the technical changes they are exposed to during training are unlikely to make a deep, lasting impact” (p. 65). Even outside of training, Evans suggests that “personal contact that is oriented toward both task performance and emotional adjustment rather than just one or the other facilitates staff progress from loss to commitment” (p. 62). Such progress is essential to change efforts; as Evans says, “building of commitment among a critical mass of staff ranks among the most important goals change agents can set for themselves” (p. 69).
Later Evans (2001) summarized “five early steps… to help reduce resistance and build commitment among teachers” (p. 201-203):

  • Join the early resistance rather than try to override it.
  • Identify (rather than hide) weaknesses in the school’s own functioning.
  • Refrain from demonizing students or parents or exaggerating an ‘us versus them dichotomy.’
  • Present the situation as ‘pay me now or pay me later.’
  • Make a strong personal commitment.
  • Leave lots of time for questions.

Most importantly, Evans (1996) concluded that “of all the factors vital to improving schools, none is more essential – or vulnerable – than hope” (p. 290).

Fullan (2001b), too, felt that “real change then, whether desired or not, represents a serious personal and collective experience characterized by ambivalence and uncertainty” (p. 32). He went on to say that “the anxieties of uncertainty and the joys of mastery are central to the subjective meaning of educational change, and to success or failure thereof – facts that have not been recognized or appreciated in more attempts at reform” (p. 32). He, like others, notes that “restructuring… occurs time and time again, whereas reculturing (how teachers come to question and change their beliefs and habits) is what’s needed” (p. 34). In this respect, he considers innovation a multidimensional undertaking, including new materials (such as video games and simulations), new teaching approaches (such as constructivist pedagogy) and new beliefs (such as perceptions of the value of video games or constructivism) (p. 39, 43, 46).

Fullan (2001a) placed “a premium on understanding and insight rather than on mere action steps” (p. 46). Like Evans, Fullan believed that “collegiality, caring, and respect are paramount” (p. 57). He elaborated on this, writing that “a culture of caring… is vital for successful performance… in five dimensions; mutual trust, active empathy, access to help, lenience in judgement, and courage” (p. 82). He also knew that “leading in a culture of change means creating a culture (not just a structure) of change… [that produces] the capacity to seek, critically assess, and selectively incorporate new ideas and practices” (p. 44). However, the leader or change agent should also remember that they, too, are human, and be sure to “seek sources and situations that push the limits of their energy and engagement, coupled with rituals or periodic breaks that are energy recovering” (Fullan, 2005, p. 35).

Resistance to organizational change is inevitable, but change agents responsible for the integration of video games and simulations as constructivist learning environments will cope with the inevitable more productively if they remember psychological factors. They will be able to move members of their organizations toward enrollment and commitment by building trust and psychological safety. This is the only route to truly reculturing an organization.