With today’s rapidly evolving technology and business markets in their most challenging time for decades, companies rise and fall faster than ever before. Leaders must constantly anticipate the market and their customer needs and that sometimes means you need to make changes – be that processes, products, organisational structure, or even the markets you operate in.
Many leaders don’t fully understand that, by nature, most organisations resist change. Employees create patterns of behaviour to reduce stress and eliminate the unknown. Change creates uncertainty, stresses the culture, and alarms the entrenched —those individuals who resist change at all costs. It is the leader’s responsibility to reduce undue stress on the culture caused by change initiatives.
Nothing is as upsetting to your people as change. Nothing has greater potential to cause failures, loss of production, or falling quality. Yet nothing is as important to the survival of your organisation as change. History is full of examples of organisations that failed to change and that are now extinct. The secret to successfully managing change, from the perspective of the employees, is a clearly defined ‘What’ and a deep understanding of ‘Why’.
An individual’s degree of resistance to change is determined by whether they perceive the change as good or bad, and how severe they expect the impact of the change to be on them. Their ultimate acceptance of the change is a function of how much resistance the person has and the quality of their coping skills and their support system.
Your job as a leader is to address their resistance from both ends to help the individual reduce it to a minimal, manageable level. Your job is not to bulldoze their resistance so you can move ahead.
So why is it that some teams don’t or won’t change?
Unclear on the need for change
If people do not understand the need for change, you can expect resistance at best or sabotage at worst. If people strongly believe the current way of doing things works well…and has done for twenty years, you’ve got a vital job in enrolling them in the importance of the changes you’re introducing and why.
Fear of the unknown
People will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe – and perhaps more importantly, feel – that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction – ‘A burning platform’
Lack of ability
This is a fear people will seldom admit. But sometimes, change in organisations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition very well, and therefore fight the change.
‘We’ve always done it this way!’
If you ask people in an organisation to do things in a new way, as rational as that new way may seem to you, you will be setting yourself up against all that hard wiring, all those emotional connections to those who taught your audience the old way – and that’s not trivial.
Lack of belief
When people don’t believe that they, or the company, can competently manage the change there is likely to be resistance
When people believe that the change initiative is temporary…’We’ve seen this all before’
Not invented here
If people are allowed to be part of the change there is less resistance. People like to know what’s going on, especially if their jobs may be affected. Informed employees tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction than uninformed employees. Ultimately, employees who feel part of the ‘bigger picture’ and are pulling in the same direction will not only have a positive impact on the bottom line, but also give your company a competitive advantage.
When it comes to change management there’s no such thing as too much communication. Communication gravitates around the audience: without a solid understanding of your audience, you are not communicating – you are merely dropping information into a vacant area and hoping for the best. There are numerous internal challenges to communicating about the business to employees, not least appreciating their level of understanding, and planning appropriately according to the needs and capabilities of different employee segments.
Don’t mistake compliance for acceptance. People who are overwhelmed by change resign themselves to it and go along with the flow. You have them in body, but you do not have their hearts.
‘I’ll be worse off’
Resistance can stem from perceptions of how the change will affect them personally. For example, people who feel they’ll be worse off at the end of the change are unlikely to give it their full support. Similarly, if people believe the change favours another group/department/person there may be (unspoken) anger and resentment.
In the next blog, with the help of John Kotter from Harvard Business School, I’ll be explaining how to implement change successfully in your organisation.