Welcoming or Resisting Change
You know the old adage: Change is the only constant.
This slogan is often used to “help” people “get on board” when leaders have made a decision and they want everyone to MOVE.
I get a lot of calls from clients asking me to help their employees respond faster to change. They feel that there is too much resistance; if their employees would just trust in the new direction and get on board, all would be good.
But maybe that’s not the answer; maybe a little resistance is good! Maybe resistance is a tension that will ALWAYS need to be managed, and our outcomes (in the end) are better for it. Let me explain.
Imagine this typical situation…
Leadership has announced a change (maybe several times). They have planned carefully. They have sent multiple emails, and possibly even hosted an all-staff event in which the reasons for the change are demonstrated clearly. (Possibly with fancy PowerPoints and a slogan… and maybe even T-shirts, lanyards or pins!!) Leaders have made a huge effort to paint a picture of what’s in it for employees and the organization. They've laid out the pathway forward and made change easy in every way. In short, they did their change leadership work.
And yet resistance still arises.
- Some people ask question after question after question.
- Some persist in doing things the old way.
- Some question the validity of the change.
- Some offer alternatives - strongly.
- Some stall, thinking that this may be just another “flavor of the month” that will pass.
- Some avoid the launch or simply check-out.
What's going on here?
To gain a deeper understanding, consider these two factors:
- How has change been handled in the past? Have leaders already spent their “change capital” on numerous other initiatives?
- How deeply have the people impacted by the change been involved in the formation of the new direction?
Change Capital is the relative amount of goodwill that leaders have “banked” that allows them to ask others to “trust that this is right.” If you look backwards and realize this is just one more change in a long line of adaptations that employees have had to make, or that there have been recent changes that were launched but didn’t stick, then you might not have enough change capital.
See Things from the Other Perspective
Imagine the situation from your employees’ point of view. How many changes have they had to adapt to recently? What is the impact on their daily work? Every change at the leadership level takes its toll on systems and processes all down the line. Imagine for a moment the mountains of tactical work that may be required as employees scramble to adapt to each change that their leaders impose.
Slow down. Be thoughtful. Ask your employees about what it will actually take to implement the change. Do this EARLY.
Which leads me to my next point…
To Involve is to Invest
Let's face it, leaders often have more information than others do about changes that will impact the organization. Leaders have been watching the horizon for changes that need to be made and they are involved in potential change efforts long before the rest of the organization is informed. This means that leaders have had significant time to prepare for the change. They have had time to digested the what, why, how and when. Employees rarely have that same luxury of foresight.
Involving the rest of the organization early and often is an investment by leaders in the future change effort. Specifically:
- Periodically (at least twice per year), share an environmental scan with your entire organization. Do this in-person if possible. Talk about the market, the competitive landscape, and the technological or regulatory issues that are coming up. Let them in on the secret! Share some of what YOU are seeing and hearing that could lead to organizational changes.
- Ask employees to anticipate change and come up with potential solutions. Ask:
- “How might this (insert change idea) impact our business?”
- “How might we respond?”
- “What changes could we make to stay ahead of the curve given the potential impacts?”
- Engage employees in scenario planning sessions as a means of properly preparing and managing the workload. Say, “this change is looking likely, and we want to prepare in advance. Come to a scenario planning session to help us consider all the important factors. We need your expertise.”
- Finally, share information via many channels. Share information far more often than you think you need to. Remember that we live in an information-cluttered universe, and you need to cut through the noise.
Change IS the only constant, and it behooves us to engage all of our talented people as we strive to make change easier for all. Adopting these best practices will demonstrate your commitment to organizational excellence!