Many articles and books tout the importance of leadership, culture, participation and incentive structures, but they rarely mention the real work of change — overcoming personal resistance on an individual level. We know that people hate change, but resistance is not simply a psychological barrier to overcome.
The project management canon may call them resources, but unlike a program or bot, people cannot be re-configured. Once you start to see organizational change as a process contingent on handling individual goals and needs, rather than collective culture-based motivation, you open up new and more effective means of change. This makes you a better manager.
Here are four regularly accepted myths about change and what you need to know to better lead a successful change effort.
Myth: Everyone has the same goals. Truth: Everyone has their own goals.
A company culture can compel collaborative action, but not as well as individual goals can. Ideally they coincide, but sometimes they don’t. The most common source of resistance is the fear of losing importance or responsibility when a worker’s unique knowledge or skill is replaced by automation or simplified procedures.
In these cases, it will not be enough to just tell people they are still valued, give an incentive, or ask them for token feedback. People know better. It may be necessary to promote, transfer, or replace these staff.
As the project manager, you need to have a rough idea of each primary team member’s personal goals, as well as the project goals and how these goals will play out in the execution of the change. Does the team member want to learn a new skill? Earn a specific promotion? Avoid a certain type of work or schedule during the change? Knowing each team member’s goals will help you motivate employees and allow you to make subtle adjustments to avoid resistance.
Myth: Participation is the key to overcoming resistance. Truth: Listening is the most important part of change management.
If you know there is no room to change a solution, don’t pretend to solicit ideas. Even if there is room to change a plan based on employee input, it could still backfire, as there is no way to accept everyone’s ideas.
Some people are going to like the current processes just the way they are, and they will clearly tell you so. Once that opinion is voiced in an open forum, it makes it all the more difficult to change minds. Always talk privately to those team members who do not agree.
So, how do you involve employees in a big change to take advantage of the documented participation reduction in resistance? You sit down one-on-one with as many employees as you can to walk through their day-to-day and just listen, before — and then again after — you announce a change project. This will help you craft the language to sell the change, anticipate objections, consider employee needs, and publicly recognize employee contributions.
Myth: Executive buy-in is the most important consideration. Truth: Executive commitment may crumble under intense pushback.
No matter how much an executive loves an idea, if the people doing the work start to rebel, it’s only a matter of time before the executive will disavow the project.
Replacing workers is expensive; if it starts to cost too much, the executive will withdraw support. Don’t count on executive support to see you through the toughest moments of the change — instead, work from day one to secure support from the bottom up as much as the top.
Production workers and their supervisors play an important role in any change process, because they are the ones who experience the changes most acutely. These workers will also be the most likely to complain.
Complaints tend to snowball in an office environment and should be handled immediately. Make yourself available and also accountable for the success of the change project.
Myth: Change takes time. Truth: Change only works with commitment.
This one feels correct, but it’s a mistake. Think about the real changes in your life: choosing a college, getting married, having a child, or quitting your job. All of those changes may have taken time to decide, but the moment of execution was short and definitive. Even if you tried to change your mind later, you were forever changed. Similarly, real organizational change is only effective if there is no simple way to reverse it.
Changes work best when implemented as a single solution to a single problem. For example, if you start using a new accounting system for some clients but not others, staff may resist using the new system and not commit completely to the change. You may receive reports of complaints, detailed e-mails comparing the two systems, requests to keep using the old system, and pushback when it comes to the double system reconciliation.
Even in those instances where management is flexible about changing the solution after implementation, the new solution cannot be successfully tried without the users firmly convinced there is no other option. You have to present conviction. If there is any doubt, the door is open to both conscious and unconscious campaigns to undermine the success of the change.
Fix any technical errors, but withhold judgement on effectiveness for a set period of time. Once the implementation is complete and accepted by all staff, then you can evaluate and correct as necessary.
Originally Published on Ellevate
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