Involve people in the change to reduce the resistance
Forced change against a strict deadline is now the reality for most changes and what we see more and more is that the complexity of change is increasing and many major programmes consist of several in their own right substantial change tasks.
In one of my jobs I had to advise a major European unit of a global company which had particular change issues that made their changeover within a global project have high perceived business risk. This unit for example had already gone through several changes of ownership in their recent past and was again heavily impacted by the new global program. Our first step was to understand how the change impacted on the group in some detail – on the departments and individuals within the business. Change needed to be thought ‘through’ not ‘about’ and the changes in role and tasks were worked through at a detailed level of granularity – and how these would change as the global project proceeded.
The intervention strategy we considered was based around thinking through what the ‘changed’ organisation’ would look like when the dust had settled. The patterns of communication, the new roles and responsibilities and the impact on individual tasks were considered and what the steps would look like to bridge the gap from the current situation to the future. We worked backwards from the desired state and forwards from the current to meet in the middle! This defined inter alia the changes in role and task, and the necessary training and coaching for the individuals. The transition was trickier, and this was handled by facilitating the transition cutover planning at group level. This acted to involve the organisation in the changeover (it’s on ‘its’ way!) and confronted them with the change and engaged them in participating in the design of the whole process. Getting them to define in detail their future roles and tasks as well as the timings were key aspects of this intervention. Further, interviews and group meetings around the changeover period itself allowed ‘voice’ to be given and concerns and issues to be fully surfaced.
Key learning points
Do not interpret all resistance as opposition to change. Opposition can often be a sign of interest in the outcome and an expression of legitimate concern Capture the concerns and rationale. It may be that someone has identified a flaw in our reasoning and may have identified a route to possible failure, perhaps from the last time this occurred. To find out why it did not work last time may reveal some interesting lessons. However, be cautious about agreeing with an issue as this may be interpreted as a sign that the change can be negotiated – capture without judgement.
The assumption that all employees will go through the same cycle of resistance is false and too simplistic. Often there are winners in a change process. Identify these and build coalitions to build a success culture. Furthermore, some departments or groups of people are more successful or more robust with handling change than others. Building on these departments within an organisation help bring the whole organisation along
We all know the value of clear communication but forget to include the need for relevant clear communication. Exhortations of the value of the change at high level are useless unless made clearly relevant to the people affected by the change. Unless the communication is made explicitly relevant to the employees specific needs they will switch off and ignore you.