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March 1, 2023
Vol. 80
No. 6
Research Alert

In Organizational Change Efforts, Belonging Matters

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    LeadershipSchool Culture
    An above shot of people standing in a circle smiling and waving to the camera
    Credit: CAIAIMAGE_MARTIN BARRAUD / iSTOCK
      Why are people often resistant to change? New research suggests it may be because it disrupts a fundamental human need: a sense of belonging.
      Any kind of major change can leave people feeling ungrounded and adrift, according to researchers Deborah Rowland and Paul Pivcevic. But they found in a recent research study that change managers can make their initiatives go forward a lot easier if they focus on four key leadership skills: Staying present, building shared purpose and meaning, changing the now(shifting routines in the present moment for long-term gains), and attending to belonging. While all four are important, they discovered that fostering a sense of belonging was the "standout differentiator."
      After conducting 77 interviews with leaders from many different areas of industry—including healthcare, education, and government—Rowland and Pivcevic analyzed these leaders' stories about change initiatives in relation to the leadership skills demonstrated during the change. They discovered leaders who fostered a sense of belonging were more successful with complex change than those that did not.
      "If you feel you belong, loyalty follows, and with that the permission for risk-taking and innovation," the authors write.
      Turns out, people really need to feel like they matter. "Successful change leaders make a skillful and conscious effort to build or rebuild belonging," the authors explain. They note that it's just as important to honor any sense of belonging that might have been lost during a change as it is to forge new relationships and bonds. This can go a long way toward building loyalty and buy-in.
      For further reading on the concept of mattering as it relates specifically to educators, see "How Mattering Matters for Educators" by Shelly Wilfong and Ryan Donlan in the Summer 2021 issue of Educational Leadership.
      References

      Rowland, D., & Pivcevic, P. (2022, April 8). Leading change post-pandemic: Belonging. London School of Economics. [Blog].

      Tara Laskowski is ASCD's director of digital and editorial content.

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