Thought I would touch on the topic of perceived control this time.

Perceived control is a very important construct in acceptance of change.  So often you hear that people just don’t like change.  I take issue with that. People don’t mind change if managed or introduced well. But that often means ensuring that the employee involved has some perceived control.

So what is it and why does it matter?

Perceived control is your perception of your ability to be effective in the world.  It reflects the degree to which you believe a situation is controllable and that you have the necessary skills and ability to make a difference to the outcome of a situation.

The basic theories suggest that the higher the degree of perceived control, the better your physical and mental health and ability to adapt to change. Take away perceived control and people retreat to coping mechanisms that are not as useful as others. If you perceive you have some control when faced with a stressful situation (like some organisational change) you move towards problem-focused coping strategies (as opposed to emotional coping strategies).  If you want to avoid performance dips, consider the degree of perceived control.

Does the type of change matter?

The studies suggest so. High perceived control leads to higher performance and organisational commitment in survivors of layoffs ,  greater success in diffusion of innovations, and openness to change in reorganizations.

How can you boost perceived control?

  • Consult employees before making decisions or introducing change
  • Ask for their thoughts on how to introduce the change
  • Avoid random processes
  • Provide as much information as early as possible
  • Assist in bolstering skills and abilities to cope with the intended changes
  • Provide your teams with opportunities to make collective sense of the change

Of course perception is a tricky thing. It’s influenced by a locus of control, negative/positive disposition, and past experience. Your employees will have varying degrees of perceived control when faced with the same change. It’s why one-size-fits-all processes rarely work.

Having said all this, caution is advised in trying to manipulate perceived control for an easier change outcome. Trying to control perception will reduce trust and commitment. As one friend sagely noted, “you can’t control someone’s perception, but you can help to shape it”. Let’s just hope it’s not a case of shape up, or ship out!

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