According to Peter Senge in his book, The Dance of Change, “most change initiatives fail”. Two independent studies in the early 1990s, one published by Arthur D. Little and one by McKinsey & Co., found that out of the hundreds of corporate Total Quality Management (TQM) programs studied, about two thirds “grind to a halt because of their failure to produce hoped-for results.”
Even without hearing the statistics, most of us know firsthand that change programs fail. We have seen enough “flavor of the month” programs rolled out from top management to last a lifetime. Therefore, how did Jack Welch, former GE CEO, take the company to its financial stature by implementing his key business strategy: Change, before it’s too late? How did he overcome the change resistance? How can we as executives implement change successfully and most importantly understand and handle the resistance?
Most people don’t like change because they don’t like being changed. However, change is inevitable and a skill we must learn to master as we approach 2017 as business and HR professionals. When change comes into view, fear and resistance to change follow – often despite its obvious benefits. Some people simply accept and thrive or untroubled by change. In fact, they openly embrace it. While other people fight against change because they:
- fear losing something they value
- fear losing control and/or power
- don’t understand the change and its implications
- don’t think that the change makes sense,
- find it difficult to cope with either the level or pace of the change.
Why is it important we understand the numerous reactions to change? Resistance emerges when there is a threat to something the individual values. The threat may be real or it may be just a perception. It may arise from a genuine understanding of the change or from misunderstanding, or even almost total ignorance about it.
“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Therefore, if you can catch resistance early, then you can respond to it before it takes hold, effectively nipping it in the bud. Here are two early signs to watch for as you implement change and how to respond to them.
- Gossip – When the change is announced, the tom-toms will start beating loudly and the grapevine will bear fruit of much and varied opinion. Keep your ear to the ground on what is being said around the water cooler. Listen particularly for declaration of intent and attempts to organize resistance. Respond to gossip by opening it up, showing you are listening to concerns and taking them seriously, and providing lots of valid information that will fill the vacuum.
- Testing – Just as a high school class will test a teacher’s ability to maintain discipline, so also will come some brave soul to test out what happens when they resist change. They may, for example, not attend a meeting or (publicly?) challenge a decision. How you deal with such early resistance will have a significant effect on what happens next. For example, unproductive: you can jump on the person and squash both them and their words, productive: you can productively communicate describing what you heard and saw (mirroring)and assertively ask for understanding while acknowledging their feelings.
Here are a few additional ways to handle resistance to change in a positive manner.
- Facilitation – The best approach to creating sustainable change is to work with your employees, helping them achieve goals that also help reach to the goals of the change project. This is a good practice when people want to collaborate but are struggling to adjust to the situation and achieve the goals of change.
- Education – When people are not really bought in to the rationale for the change, they may well come around once they realize why the change is needed and what is needed of them to support it. In particular, if new skills are required, you can provide these via a focused course of education.
- Involvement – When people are not involved physically or intellectually, they are unlikely to be involved emotionally either, except reactively. One of the best methods for getting people to engage proactively is to get them involved. When their hands get dirty in support of the change, they realize that dirt is not so bad after all. It also helps them justify their involvement, and so persuade themselves that this is the right thing to do.
- Negotiation – When others cannot easily be persuaded, you may need to give in order to get. Invite them to sit down and describe what they are seeking. Find out what they want and ask what they need. Find out what their preferences are and what they will never accept. Then develop a mutually agreeable solution that works for both of you.
Change, as the saying goes, is a journey. We wish you a “resistance free” journey to successful change. For more information on Managing Change please contact YPHR.
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