When my ancestors boarded a rickety old ship in Scotland a couple of hundred years ago and headed out into the deep blue yonder, it must have taken great courage. There was either something worth leaving behind, nothing worth staying for or something compelling to travel toward. Regardless, they were making a life-altering change – no small feat. Needless to say they were led by a man of great influence, a clan and religious leader who doubtless created a compelling argument for making the perilous journey in search of the new Scotland in Canada – Nova Scotia. Across all sides of my family, the spirit of adventure and the desire for change then led them later into New Zealand and the gold fields of California and Western Australia. Alas not a nugget was bequeathed.
Some people love change and some people loathe it. Either way, navigating change is not a task for the faint hearted. Why do some engage and some resist?
I have always been excited about change; it opens doors to myriads of opportunities. As a manager, you can’t assume that everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for the next adventure, but change is not only inevitable, it is critical to survival. Without it, you risk obsolescence in the time it takes to upgrade a silicon chip.
“There has never been a faster-changing marketplace than the one we live in today. Leaders must be flexible in managing changing opportunities and challenges and nimble enough to pivot at the right moment. Stubbornness is no longer desirable to most organizations. Instead, humility and the willingness to adapt mark a great leader.” (Dave Kerpen)
When I got my first mobile phone wired into my car, I felt like Elvis Presley (minus the convertible and the good-looking followers in swimsuits). Later I went portable with the Motorola Brick, a couple of kilos of muscle-building state-of-the-art technology. With my belt tied up 3 notches and a pair of braces, I could just keep my pants up with that baby in my pocket. A few months ago I was in the Pancake Parlour with my daughters and some of their friends. It was a nice, cosy chat with six people and six iPhones on the table being used to bring life to the conversation with photos, Google, Facebook and Instagram. What a change there’s been since that first mobile phone, and still the technology is developing, faster and faster every day.
In the time I have been working, a whole new global language has developed and is still evolving as quickly as someone can come up with a new idea. The rate of change is terrifying yet terribly exciting. The opportunities presented are boundless and mind blowing. Conversely, we remain unable to deal with so many ageless world problems.
To implement change successfully, we need to understand why people resist change and determine how to support our employees through the process and beyond whilst engaging them in it.
Why do people resist change?
As it may have been for many of my ancestors, for people in your team or your organisation, change may be just as terrifying as a perilous journey across the ocean, with no end in sight, no way to picture where you’re travelling and what it will be like when you arrive wherever you’re headed. And worst of all, no real understanding why you’re going. As it does so often with change, people sail straight into storms that leave the ship battered and bruised, or find themselves becalmed in the doldrums, going nowhere and no time soon. Each is equally as damaging. There are many reasons why people resist change. What are they and what can we do as managers to help? Here are a couple of ideas to think about.
Map out the route clearly and simply
Take the time to really make sure people know why you need change in the first place. Is it about opportunity, is it about survival? What are you responding to: your clients, your market, your resources? What needs to be done, why and when are all critical aspects of change that should be communicated to employees before the journey begins and regularly through the implementation.
It’s time to sit down with the team and get it out in the open. Some information is necessary to keep to management, but letting the team work blindly without the information they could have is a sea fraught with danger. Call a meeting, start a small action group (Change Champions from different levels/areas of your team). Understand what it means to them all personally and work with them. Mapping the route out together means you’re all on the same page, driving towards the same goal.
A clear explanation of why change is necessary is essential. Consider this:
“…people tend to resist new behaviours because they’re crystal clear about what they’ll lose by changing but uncertain about what they’ll gain. Like it or not, when it comes to change, humans tend to overvalue what they’re losing while undervaluing what they gain. So we don’t eagerly embrace the verbally recommended strategy.” (Grenny et al, Page 94)
What does that mean to you? Well you need to be able to help people picture the outcome, feel it, see it, touch it and so on. Engage their senses.
Share the steering wheel
People feel that they may lose control over their own path, their own destiny, when change is imposed upon them. Engage with your team as equals with a shared purpose, shared values and ambitions. Determine how you can involve your employees in decision making, planning and implementation of change so that they can take ownership of actions and outcomes. Involving the team in the change and setting of directions is an important contributor to employee engagement and will significantly reduce the threat and of course the shock. With clear and transparent communication, people mostly do understand the need for change. You know what else? They probably have some great ideas to share. And they can often point out the pitfalls. Don’t be afraid to share the navigation.
Help them leap upon the shore running
There is little that makes us more vulnerable than expecting the unexpected. It is essential that as a manager that you equip staff with what they need to make the change and feel competent when they arrive at their destination, or at the least, fully supported. They need to hit the ground running day one. Implementing change is one thing, but individuals need to know their personal part in that brave new world and how to play it. No use arriving in a brand new land not being able to grow your own food, farm your own animals, build a house or a barn. Sure, it was great being an integral part of the decision, but I didn’t know I had to be a carpenter and a farmer as well. People very quickly disengage when they feel their competence, their reputation and credibility are being called into question and more so when they see no remedy.
We’ve just scratched the surface
There is a heap to think about, and that’s just another challenge of change – it often leads to more work. Ultimately our goal is to keep employees engaged through the change process. If you consider and plan for potential issues, it is possible to make change a positive experience. As you undertake your plans to change the world as we know it, think carefully about what resistance there is likely to be and carefully plan your strategy to address this. Above all, remember that the most important driver of engagement is clear and open communication – inclusion, not exclusion.
What are some of the key issues and signs of resistance we should plan for in implementing change? Please post your comments below.
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Many thanks to my nephew James Westmore for his wonderful artwork and to Rosie Broadfoot for her continued enthusiasm for editing my posts.
Grenny,J, Patterson, K, Maxfield, D, McMIllan, R, Switzler, A, 2013, Edition 2, Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, McGraw Hill, USA
Kerpen, D, Likeable Leadership, A Collection of 65+ Inspirational Stories, Likeable Media