One of the most well documented findings from studies of organisational behaviour is that organisations and their employees resist change. We’re all creatures of habit, life is complex enough, and we don’t need to consider the full range of options for the hundreds of decisions we have to make every day. To cope with this complexity, we all rely on habit or programmed responses. But when confronted with change this tendency to respond in our accustomed ways become a source of resistance. Unfortunately, resistance to change hinders adaptation and progress.
Effectively managing change requires managers to embrace the saying “the only thing constant is change”. As managers, we use this statement often to explain why we are asking our employees to learn or do something new. We often think this should be enough, individuals should get that the change we are asking them to make should now be embraced with open arms and that they should understand more change is to come and they should be ready.
Well the reality is most people resist any change that doesn’t jingle in their pockets and just telling them to expect it, simply isn’t enough.
There is a frequently-quoted statistic, which may not strictly be numerically accurate but certainly has the feel of truth. Seventy-five per cent of all change initiatives adopted by organisations fail. Generally, they fail for one of three reasons (or in the most spectacular failures, a combination of the three): employees fail to listen to the message for change; employees listen, but disagree with the reasons behind the need for change and fail to buy into the change programme as a result; or they understand and agree with the need for change, but fail to implement the necessary strategy.
Successful change doesn't usually happen overnight. If it's going to be worthwhile, it might take a lot longer than you expected. Let's face it, if life were that easy then all half-decent ideas would become instant success stories and we all know this isn't generally the case.
The following tips will assist with managing change:
Understand why you want or need to change. If you don’t, no-one else will. Effective communication is one of the key factors in the successful implementation of change.
Get the right people in place to lead the change. What skills do you need? What attitudes are you looking for? And who has them?
Devise the vision and strategy. What needs to be done and when. If you are sponsoring or leading change it’s hard to remember that everyone does not have all the knowledge that you do. So using a simple method of identifying what needs to happen when and updating it regularly allows others to understand the impact on them.
Explain the reasons for the change to your people. Give people the opportunity to ask questions and to challenge what is happening – throughout the process. This helps their understanding of why things need to change. The more open the process the more trust will be built as the project proceeds.
Get everyone involved in how the change is implemented. They will help you identify the real impact where it matters most – at the frontline. Find out who’s implemented that type of change before and give your people the opportunity to visit or see for themselves what pitfalls have been encountered and how things have changed for the better.
Get rid of obstacles that stand in the way of achieving your vision. For example, get rid of old systems and procedures that no longer serve a purpose. Remember that people will hang on to the familiar and do what they’ve always done if they have the opportunity to. This will disempower the saboteurs — people who stand in the way of progress.
Identify some short-term wins. Nothing motivates like success. Changes, like providing new PCs before the implementation of a new IT system, can help people see some benefits from the change, and at an early stage.
Encourage risk taking, new ideas, activities and actions. Involving people along the way helps them to understand what’s in it for them. Remember that there are lots of examples from history of many failures before a great success, so encouragement from you could lead to more benefits than you ever expected.
Recognise and reward people who made the wins possible. Differentiate between those who are championing the change and those who aren’t. You want to encourage the heroes rather than the saboteurs. And those who are not either (the sheep!) will follow those with the loudest voices.
Keep asking questions to check out the progress you are making. Talk to people involved in the project often – and not just those who are accountable for the delivery of the project. By talking to anyone affected by the project you will be demonstrating that you are interested in people’s views and discover what is really happening.
Ask yourself the question “what makes your employees sad, mad or glad?”
Employees should be made to feel like people not a number. Engaging employees is about them having insight into your organisation and feeling included. That way, they become an advocate of the business.
Managing your workforce through change is a true test of corporate leadership.
Having employees participate in decisions that affect them is no panacea. Participation has only a modest influence on factors such as employee productivity, motivation, and job satisfaction. But it’s a potent force for combating resistance to change.
Louise has accumulated more than 20 years of recruitment experience in the UK and Australia. After successfully managing teams for one of the largest finance recruiters in the world, Louise transferred to Sydney in April 1999 and launched new offices and new product lines, managing the group through significant growth as head of the Accounting and Finance division.
In 2004, Louise founded Aequalis Consulting. Louise has a down to earth approach, but her energy, passion and ambition still fuel the business today, and will continue to contribute to Aequalis’s long-term success. She is a strong advocate of acknowledging the shortcomings of the recruitment industry, and is known for telling it like it is.