Change initiatives often backfire because managers try to apply one-size-fits-all approaches. Somehow one-size-doesn’t-fit-everyone would be a more proper way to describe the result.
Even though experienced managers are more and more aware of human resistance, surprisingly few take time before an organizational change to assess systematically who might resist the change and for what reason. What good would it do? In my opinion every critic has a point. They might not always have the ability to describe their goal perfectly, and at times their opinion comes out totally wrong. But when someone dares to criticize your idea, instead of trying to shut them up, try listening their reasoning and see the other side of your coin. Critical opinion will give you a chance to look at your subject from a different point of view and gives you the possibility to make your case stronger.
Four common reasons to resist change
There are four common reasons why people resist change.
- They are afraid they’re losing something of value
- They don’t understand the change
- Change implications do not make sense to them
- People have low tolerance of change.
It’s natural for people focus on their own best interests. Losing something of value is understandably a reason to resist change. When there’s no trust between the person initiating the change and the employees, misunderstanding are common.
Have you been in a situation where there’s an attempt to combat resistance to change? Sometimes managers try to do it by involving people in the initiative’s design even when they don’t have the information needed to provide useful input. The end result is confused people and lots of opinions which you most likely can’t use but you’d need to try to interpret those somehow.
Few weeks ago I was writing about the different significance of matters to different people. It’s understandable that people asses the situations differently than their managers. The common mistake is that managers often assume both that they have all the relevant information required to conduct on an adequate analysis and everyone affected by the change have the same facts. It’s easy to state neither assumption is correct.
Low tolerance of change arises when people are afraid they won’t be able to develop new skills and behaviour required from them. All human beings are limited in their ability to change with some people much more limited than others.
Peter F. Drucker has argued that the major obstacle to organizational growth is managers’ inability to change their attitudes and behaviour as rapidly as their organization requires. Sometimes managers are emotionally unable to make the transition. Without an accurate diagnosis of possibilities of resistance, a manager can easily go wrong during the change process and cause extremely pricy problems.
Ways to combat resistance
Most of us have experienced organizational changes and for some those are events that can be expected yearly. People who have been through such changes, there are situations where the change didn’t really change anything and vice versa.
Organizational change efforts that are based on inconsistent strategies tend to run into predictable problems. Unplanned efforts to implement the change fast fail since we didn’t see the anticipated problems.
Wanted or not there will always be people resisting change and therefore multiple ways to deal with resistance of change:
Education and communication, Participation and involvement, Facilitation and support, Negotiation and agreement, Manipulation + co-optation.
I believe there isn’t just one right way to lead the change. What makes the difference is the fact how well you know your organization the change is affecting.
Even if education and communication is time consuming when lots of people are involved, an influencer has to transfer the knowledge, invite people to participate, influence and get some extra hands to help with the change. It’s also a good way to increase communication and make sure information is correct and not based on rumours. When participating people, like in educational situations, organization has to make sure the participants have fact-based information in order to avoid time consuming, wrongly scoped change discussion.
When an organization is facing adjustment problems the most common way to diminish change resistance is to facilitate and support. Sometimes just being supportive is enough. Though adding training in new skills or simply listening and providing emotional support might be good addition when approaching people.
Negotiating and agreeing about the results can be expensive and can make people doubt the reasons behind the change. Manipulation can lead to future problems when people start feeling manipulated. Both of the approaches can work, but both of them have rather negative sound for me.
Improve your chances with change
How can I improve my success in organizational change?
- Analyse your organization and make sure you understand the current situation, problems and matters that might cause problems. Make sure you prioritize things you need to address.
- Study what other relevant issues you need to produce change. Define who has the information to design the change, who might resist the change and why, and what cooperation is needs for implementation.
- Select a suitable change strategy based on the analysis. Define speed of the change, amount of preplanning needed and state of involvement of others. Select consistent methods to proceed with individuals and groups
- Monitor and measure. Something unexpected will always happen and monitoring helps to identify unexpected.
Yes, you need to have interpersonal skills to provide the analysis. But even the most outstanding interpersonal skills won’t cover a poor choice of approach and tactics.
There are lot of lists in many articles and books which tell you what you can face when leading change. And in many cases you can find common nominator for the issues. I’ll be bold and announce that if we would use more time to plan how we communicate the change throughout the process, measure it constantly and make sure we adapt our communications plan according the measured results when needed, most of the predictable problems would be tackled.
Several organizations undermine the need or importance of communication plan. Communication plan should be created along with other actions during preplanning. It’s time consuming to write emails, talk with people, give them possibility to tell about their toughs and feelings, make sure everyone is aware of implementation, communicate as transparently as possible. It requires calendar time. Time that in many cases is already booked for other important issues.
I believe the real question in here is “How much you want this change to succeed?”