Change and the Science of Inclusion

I’ve been watching change management trends, and since 2015 the way successful changes are implemented has been changing. And, now, new research on the science of inclusion is explaining why…with brain science at the forefront.

The takeaway: If you want to increase the likelihood that your change initiative will succeed, include employees.

This post shares concepts of inclusive creation of a strategy and links to some cutting edge courses where you can learn techniques that will make you a more relevant practitioner and your change implementations more successful.

Why change must change

In a 2015 study, the Corporate Executive Board introduced the term “Open-source Change”. They noted that the way we work is changing. Work is no longer organized along clear top-down lines – it’s cross-functional, matrixed, and overflowing with access to information.

Open source change is categorized as:

  • Co-created change strategy
  • Employee ownership of change implementation planning
  • Communications that focus on talking instead of telling

Their study showed that 74% of the leaders said employees were included in building the change strategy, but only 42% of employees said they were included.

Why the disconnect?

And, why aren’t employees included?

Common excuses included “it takes too much time” and “we can’t handle input from everyone.”

So what do you do?

Get people involved, obviously.

According to CEB, it’s the right people, at the right time, in the right way.

  1. Right people – Include the most relevant employees: It’s not necessary to include everyone. Find representatives who are willing to represent their peers and committed to the change being successful
  2. Right time – Give early transparency: Communicate options before deciding on a path
  3. Right way – Offer multiple ways to gather employee input: Create various ‘flavors’ of involvement opportunities based on the employee’s level of expertise and impact

What about the neuroscience?

In the November 2016 issue of the NeuroLeadership Journal, the authors of the article The Science of Inclusion offer evidence that inclusion results in higher group intelligence, greater pro-social behavior and a sense of purpose.

When employees are excluded from change decisions (think old models of top-down change), the signal it sends is that their thoughts and opinions are not valued. The article states:

Being respected, valued, and welcome to contribute equates to more than just good feelings: Humans have a biologically based need to belong—to feel included, supported, and valued by others socially. In fact, research shows that social exclusion can negatively impact performance, productivity, and pro-social behavior, among other consequences. The challenge is, we often make others feel excluded without realizing it.

Rooted in change models from our past, change practitioners have been working against ourselves and our results for years. Relying on sponsorship too heavily may accidentally send the message of exclusion.

Instead, lean into early input from the employees who are impacted by the change. Then, go back…frequently…to validate designs and test assumptions.

Does that last sentence sound familiar?

If you’ve learned about design thinking…it probably does.

Lately, the process that has introduced innovation breakthroughs across Silicon Valley is being applied to change.

The epicenter of design thinking is the design firm IDEO and they’re now offering two courses to help us become better inclusive change practitioners. (I haven’t yet taken either course, but hope to complete one before year-end).

IDEO Courses:

  • Designing for Change 
    • “Learn how to create a movement to catalyze change in your organization or network by mobilizing people around a shared purpose. Follow the human-centered approach to creating change that IDEO’s been honing over the past decade.”
  • Service Design Course
    • “Service Design is the craft of tying together human, digital, and physical interactions, over time, to create an experience that meets the needs of your customers.”

*CEB Webinar: Open Source Change – Making Change Management Work (August 15, 2017)


  1. Thought stoking. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is a clear and concise way to look at Change and the concept of changing the way we look at change. The science behind it adds a lot of credibility to this article. Thank you.

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