Navigating through organizational change with TERA framework
Going through a change is a fundamentally complex process for humans. Often change introduces uncertainty, whereas our brain prefers and wants predictability. Speaking from my own experience, even when the impact of a change is completely under control and consequences known - my first reaction is to resist the change with all the power I got. In the context of organization (for simplicity, I’d use organization as a term to describe a collective of people working together), the impact range of a change is even bigger, and often beyond any individual’s control.
As an Engineering Manager, often I am involved in initiating a change. Generally speaking, my leadership philosophy and values are my guiding principles in every situation and I think (hope?) that this is the first step in creating predictability and trust in my actions. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stainer introduced me to the TERA Quotient, which became my go-to framework for establishing trust and safe environment for everyone involved in a change.
The TERA framework
Evolutionary, in every unpredictable and uncertain situation, the first task that our brains perform is to figure out the level of danger or risk. In other words, we ask ourselves - “Am I in danger? What’s the risk for me?”. In my experience, this is applicable to any organizational change that I have been involved in. Often we don’t speak about it, but when change comes we do assess the danger and risk for ourselves. TERA is a simple framework which describes key influencing factors in deciding the level of perceived danger/risk, the acronym stands for:
- T: Tribe
- E: Expectations
- R: Rank
- A: Autonomy
In each of those, there are key basic questions to ask and answer.
For simplicity, let’s ignore the formal definition of “tribe” and use it as a way to describe a group/collective with shared purpose and meaning. The key question in the context of organizational change is “Are you with me or against me?”. When we don’t feel that we are part of that shared purpose - we resist. Using stronger word: we feel betrayed. Ensuring that everyone is part of the “tribe” results in a safe and collaborative environment towards shared goals.
Here are few actions you can take to ensure that people feel part of the tribe:
- Ask and consider their perspective of a change.
- Do everything you can to reassure their safety and security.
- Make it clear that the change is not “against” anyone or anything and that it is an essential required step to progress and evolve.
The question here is “Do I know what is coming?”. There are situations when we can’t be transparent and make a change visible to everyone involved. However, more often there are no reasons, but we still prefer “secrecy”. I personally think this is again done as secrecy is a very easy way to feel safe and protected ourselves - it takes courage to be transparent. The fact is that if people don’t know what is coming, they will disengage and wait. In the worst situation, they will start acting against you/change on purpose.
You need to make sure that expectations are clear:
- Be as transparent as you can. Understand the difference between transparency and visibility - not everything has to be visible to everyone, however being transparent of what is happening will take a long way.
- Communicate often and enough. Most importantly, communicate with integrity - when plans change ensure that everyone is aware.
Our brain nudges us with the following question: “Are you more or less important than me?”. Basically challenges in the issues of power hierarchy and relationship. The difference in power puts people in a position that they are less likely to take risks and engage. When it comes to change, it is essential to make sure that you speak and act towards everyone as equal to equal.
You can minimize the impact of rank with keeping the following in mind:
- Don’t act and speak from a position of power. Quantify and be as objective as possible when explaining a change. You are not doing this because you want, but because there are reasons to think that this is the right thing to do.
- Ask for feedback and opinions from others. Take subjective opinions into account.
The last question: “Do I have a say on this or not?”. Unfortunately, autonomy is often sacrificed as sometimes the honest answer here is that no, you don’t have a say. But whenever you can, engaging others and considering their input will make any change more successful. If you can, do the following:
- Delegate ownership: if not entire change, can parts of it be delegated and owned by others?
- Actively ask for input and feedback, most importantly show people that you are taking that feedback into account.
- If you can, don’t rush: ensure that people have time to think and contribute and their opinions are not disregarded.
I came up with my own way to quantify TERA for individuals, as well as for myself. My go to measurement mechanism now is to assess each component from 0 to 5. Anything lower than 13 points is an indication that I have work to do. Seeing low score is not easy, but that is just the start.