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“Change or you won't make it.”
This phrase is certainly a business cliché in the 21st century workplace. Unfortunately, as many clichés are, this one is absolutely true.
Equally true and also unfortunate, many companies change and still don't make it. Change isn’t good if it’s instituted simply for the sake of change, or because our competition is doing so, or because we just read about a great new way of doing something. These kinds of change create anguish, organizational chaos, and uncertainty, resulting in strong resistance and resentment from the people who need to make the change work. In other words, these kinds of change cause PAIN.
Understanding that the phrase "no pain, no gain" is not necessarily true in organizational change, we must determine how best to implement changes, both major and minor, in ways that will minimize or eliminate the pain associated with change for all employees within our respective organizations.
In order to manage change effectively, we need to first understand the obstacles to change. I am reminded of a quote from the book The Prince wherein the author writes: “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”
Experts tell us there are seven key factors that account for most of the reasons employees resist or, worse yet, block change. Failing to address any of these will create pain that may be so intense as to doom your change to failure. According to the experts, employees may resist change in our companies because they:
- Cannot break away from the old way of doing things.
- Believe it is too much of a bother.
- Perceive a loss of power.
- Have individual financial worries.
- Fear the unknown.
- Remember the company's prior failures with change initiatives.
- Have legitimate concerns about the proposed change.
Keep in mind that gaining acceptance to change is very different from commitment. Based on his analysis, leadership and management researcher Gary Yuckl made this important distinction: The success of an influence (change) attempt depends on the ability, skill, and knowledge of the person who is leading the influence/change initiative to gain commitment to ensure success.
So what are the keys to gaining commitment to a proposed change?
First, gain support for the change from the top down, not the bottom up, from the very beginning. Key managers must fully support the change. Next, regular communication must be established between ourselves and the rest of the organization before implementing the change. Confront issues head-on, even sensitive or emotional ones, that may arise as a result of the change. Keep in mind that with most workplace changes, job security, or the lack of, will be on everyone's mind, so be prepared to deal with it!
The next significant action is to provide reassurance through facts and data that the new change will benefit the organization. Don’t hesitate to point out the financial benefits of the change, if applicable. There’s nothing wrong with explaining how increases in company profits could benefit individual compensation. Keep in mind, however, that you should never make promises that you cannot keep in terms of future compensation.
When it comes to change, feedback and participation should be expected and encouraged. Don’t allow anyone in the organization to stand on the sidelines. This requirement will help to ensure that employees make the behavioral adjustments necessary to enact the change requirements. Our change leadership function then becomes one of showing support for any problems employees encounter in trying to change themselves in order to meet the organizational requirements.
Change in our industry is not temporary. It’s the new normal. The sooner we accept the fact that the need for change is permanent, the sooner we can cope with change and enjoy the positive results.
When leading change, our role is to articulate and legitimize our organization’s vision and the means of achieving it. The emerging and successful 21st century organizational vision must focus on continuous improvement, along with continuous change, without PAIN. Our change leadership abilities will play a significant role in the way people interpret and give meaning to organizational change.
Scott Tackett joined Violand Management Associates (VMA) with a 32-year background in manufacturing, human resource management and organizational leadership. He is currently a business development advisor for VMA where he works closely with business owners and their key management staff as both a business consultant and an executive coach. To learn more about VMA’s services and programs visit Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.