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How physical intelligence affects change initiatives

Arming your employees with physical intelligence will help increase their readiness for change and increase the odds that your change initiatives will succeed

When planting a garden we prepare the soil to increase its readiness for whatever we are planting.

When it comes to leading change the equivalent – helping employees increase their receptivity to change – is skipped entirely or skimmed over. It’s no wonder then that for the past four decades 60% to 70% of change initiatives have failed.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute workplace changes are occurring at 10 times the pace of the Industrial Revolution and at 300 times the scale.

Yet humans are not evolving as quickly as the rate of change, leaving many feeling overwhelmed, threatened, stressed, and struggling to meet let alone exceed expectations.

Most people have not been trained to cope with the degree of change around us. In 2018 stress was the number one symptom Googled. In 2019 the World Health Organization labelled burnout an official phenomenon, defining it as 'chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed'.

Employee resistance to change has been one of the most significant obstacles to the success of change initiatives and, historically, one of the most difficult to address.

Yet little attention has been given to it. Employee resistance to change is generally rooted in fear (will I still have a job? Will I be able to learn these new skills/systems? Will I lose status?) and fatigue (is this just the flavour of the day? With all that is already asked of me how can I do more? How/when am I supposed to learn X? What are they asking me to do now? They didn’t listen when we told them that X wouldn’t work, and here we go again).

Organisations need to take a serious look at how to more effectively support their human resources – especially given today’s shrinking labour pool – as a key component of implementing change.

Some organisations have provided gym memberships, meditation apps, nap pods – all of which are helpful but not sufficient. To perform at peak in the midst of this storm we have to strategically use our heads… or more accurately our brains (and bodies).

You’re familiar with cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ). How about physical intelligence (PQ)? Hundreds of chemicals (hormones and neurotransmitters) racing through our bloodstream and nervous system dictate how we think, feel, speak and behave.

Yet most of us operate largely at the mercy of those chemicals – experiencing thoughts, reactions and emotions – without realising that we can strategically influence them.

PQ, underpinned by neuroscience, is the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of certain key chemicals through how we think, breathe, move and communicate in order to stress less, achieve more, and live and work more happily.

When the level of cortisol (stress hormone) is too high it drags down the levels of three 'feel good' chemicals essential for optimism and readiness for change: dopamine (pleasure), serotonin (belonging) and oxytocin (happiness).

Identify your fear and fatigue triggers and what stress/overdrive feels like in your body such as tension, change in breathing or heart rate. When you begin to experience those triggers and symptoms do the following:

  • Use good posture and paced breathing (regular count of in breaths and out breaths, ideally with a longer count on out breaths).
  • Improve your physical flexibility – this lowers cortisol and improves mental and emotional flexibility.
  • Build resilience by adopting a learning mindset, increasing transparency, developing supportive relationships, and practising meditation and mindfulness.
  • Increase endurance and energy with breathing techniques, exercise, sufficient sleep, a healthy diet and self-appreciation. This rebalances cortisol, boosts serotonin and releases mood-enhancing endorphins.

Support a team’s readiness for change by:

  • Fostering a culture of trust, openness, and transparency in communication and behaviour.
  • Keeping an eye out for people working too late, not taking holidays or prioritising physical fitness, being short-tempered or withdrawn – and have courageous conversations to address it.
  • Balancing your own goals with understanding others’ agendas (requires balancing oxytocin and dopamine).
  • Encouraging a positive, realistic, collaborative and creative attitude to change, especially addressing any changes that affect people’s status or relationships.

Arming your employees with physical intelligence will help increase their readiness for change and increase the odds that your change initiatives will succeed.

Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton are the authors of the book Physical Intelligence