Overcoming Resistance To Change
By Dr Victor S.L. Tan
||"Why don't they change". This is one commonly asked question in the corporate world. Management often asked this about their staff. In turn, the staff below asked exactly the same question about their management. While many preach about the need and the virtues of change, the irony is that a great number of leaders and staff fail
to change themselves.
In our consulting work with over 350 Asian organisations, we found some very plausible reasons why people don't change. Many develop the complex where they become "change-shy" and they avoid change altogether. To get people to change, leaders must first understand how people become change-shy and develop strategies to eliminate this phobia.
The following are seven reasons why organisations become change-shy. This article also discusses the suggested solutions to brave forward towards positive and productive change in the workplace.
- It Did Not Work In The Past
Many staff conveniently justified their reluctance to change by simply attributing to the fact that, what was introduced before did not work. The Catch 22 of this thinking is that people spend more time in pointing to all the changes introduced that did not work rather than on why things did not work and how to get things to work.
The truth is that, there could be many reasons why certain change did not work in the past such as:
- There was a lack of commitment from the staff.
- People were not aware of the benefits of the change.
- People were not trained on how to implement the change.
- There was a conflict of interest in the change initiative.
- There was a lack of supporting resources to ensure the success of the change.
- The timing of the change was not appropriate then.
Recommended Strategy: Ascertain the root causes for why change did not work in the past and come up with a clear approach on how to overcome these difficulties. Present in a convincing manner with supporting information to show how the new approach can bring about positive and productive change. What did not work in the past need not mean that it will continue not to work in current or
future environment. Helen Keller provides a succinct point when she said: "When one door closes, another opens. But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us". The key is to recommend new ways to open a door towards change and play an active role in persisting to bring about positive results.
- Leaders Do Not Walk Their Talk
Too often leaders fail to win the commitment of others towards change because they lack the ability to influence others. To be able to influence others positively and productively requires leadership credibility. To achieve leadership credibility, leaders need to practise what they preach. James Russell Lowell said it better: "All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single
lovely action". People shy away from change because many leaders only pay lip service to changes but do not follow up with their actions. Thus for example, there are leaders who preach on the importance of punctuality to their staff but they themselves are always late for work or in meetings. There are leaders who exhort the need to change and improve and yet they are the first to shoot down new
and innovative ideas.
Recommended Strategy: Get leaders to become change agents. As change agents, they are required to be the first to practise whatever the recommended changes are. The words of Mahatma Gandhi are most relevant here, "We should be the change we want to see in the world". Leaders are assigned to implement the recommended changes within their areas of influence and control and show some
positive results before they implement the change to others. Thus, if a leader wants to implement a change on improving communication in the organisation, he or she should be practising a two-way communication and open door policy and show some positive results in his department or unit first before recommending the change to the whole organisation.
- People Were Penalised For Changes
One of the most common ways organisations develop resistance to change is the fear inculcated in people due to changes in the past. People in organisation have a history of adverse actions taken against individuals as a result of change. For example if certain leaders who introduced changes which showed unfavourable results and they were penalised, people will be afraid to introduce any changes in
the future. In one organisation that I worked as a consultant, a particular leader was singled out and transferred out of the unit when he implemented a new marketing approach which did not work. As a result, all the people in this organisation now take a very cautious stand towards change. In fact, a large number of staff have become sceptical and negative towards any kind of changes.
Recommended Strategy: Organisations need to adopt the policy of encouraging a reasonable amount of risk taking. This requires top management to support risk-taking efforts and recognise the possibilities of the outcome that may arise from the venture. The word "risk" implicates that that is an element of uncertainty towards the desired results. Management will have to take the good as well
as the bad that come along with risk taking. Not every new product or service introduced will be successful. That should not prevent companies from launching new products. Likewise, management must reckon that not all new ideas and changes will be successful and they should not discourage people from attempting to change and improve the company. All great success starts with beliefs and judgments
of probabilities and not certainties. When an attempt on a new idea or product failed after reasonable care has been taken into consideration, it should not be deemed as a mistake but a learned decision.
- Change initiators are loaded with more work
Too often executives shy away from change because they have seen that those who suggest changes normally end up doing all the work. The irony in the work environment has been that those who are good end up with bigger and bigger piles of work. This is a flawed approach. Leaders often argue that by giving the additional work to people who are competent, there is an assurance that it will be done
within the time frame. These leaders shun from giving important work to staff of lesser competence as they feared the latter will not be able to deliver. The negative repercussion is two fold. Firstly, people of lesser competency continue to lack the skills, knowledge and experience. Secondly, the good staff who have been overloaded with massive work eventually become unmotivated and do not
venture to suggest new ideas, changes or improvements. If anything else, they start to behave as if they are of lesser knowledge and competence to avoid more work. They get into the syndrome of "think smart, act blur".
They have all the smart ideas but act as if there are ignorant, so as to avoid more work!
Recommended Strategy: Leaders in organisation need to take effort to develop people. For those who are not competent, they need to undergo training, coaching and learning to keep up with the rest. Only with competency that is at par, can work arising from change initiatives be distributed fairly to all staff.
- Leaders have hidden agenda in change
People may become suspicious of change, if the rationale for the change and the specific change is not explained to them in a transparent manner. Leaders who harbour hidden agenda will arouse resistance and thus erode confidence and commitment of people towards change. As a consultant, I have come across instances whereby leaders implemented change with a motive to fulfil their self-interests. A
case in point, a leader in one listed company, implemented a reorganisation exercise just to enhance his own position. When his staff found this out later, they lost faith in his leadership. His staff were no longer committed to implement any of his subsequent change initiatives. The truth is that leaders are the ones who are more deceived themselves than when they imagine they are deceiving
others. When a leader loses her credibility, she erodes her ability to influence others and thus her effectiveness.
Recommended Strategy: It is important for organisations to appoint leaders with integrity and credibility to lead the change. For people to commit their effort and time to help implement change, they want to be sure the results from the change will be for the overall good of the organisation and its people and just to serve the interest of oneself.
- Lack of participation in change
Resistance towards change is built up when leaders exclude the participation of people at the outset in the planning stage. Involving people such as getting their inputs, suggestions and ideas on what areas for improvement or change is an important step to win their commitment. Leaders who plan everything without getting feedback from below will find that people will be apathetic when it comes to
change implementation. In fact many change programs failed not because of bad ideas but because of the poor approach in which leaders go about change.
Recommended Strategy: Leaders who lead change should involve people of various levels as much as they can. While it is not necessary to agree with every idea or suggestion given by people from below, it is worthwhile to provide them an opportunity to air their views and suggestions. In the process of being open, leaders have the opportunity to eliminate their own blindspots with regard to
certain gaps in the organisations which can help them improve their change plans and the effectiveness of their execution strategy.
- No Recognition For Change
Everyday, there are millions of employees who go home with their need for recognition in their work unfulfilled. Recognition for a change or improvement implemented in the workplace is a powerful motivation for employees. Too often leaders underestimate this great motivating influence by ignoring this awesome drive for recognition. People prefer status quo, if they feel that there is no
recognition from change efforts and initiatives taken. Couple reason number three above, i.e. people were penalised for changes with no recognition for change, the reason for not changing becomes very logical and compelling.
Recommended Strategy: To encourage people to embrace change requires leaders to go all out to recognise people for making the effort and time to implement changes and improvement. Leaders need to focus on catching people doing the right things rather than deliberately trying to fault people for doing the wrong things. Recognizing employee achievement is a powerful motivation by itself in
getting people committed to change. Truly, man does not live on bread alone. They need the inspiration that comes from recognition to motivate them to continue to improve and change.
Dr Victor S.L. Tan is the Chief Executive Officer of KL Strategic Change Consulting Group. He is an author of 5 management books. His most popular programme on Changing Mindsets has been conducted for over 200 organisations in Asia.