People Don’t Resist Change; They Resist the Change Management Process

By Joseph Krause

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People Don’t Resist Change; They Resist the Change Management Process

Do people naturally resist change? I’m sure most of you would answer with a resounding YES!

If you’re in the business of organizing change at your company, you have a practical PhD in dealing with grumpy “Who Moved My Cheese” types and have a bunch of tricks up your sleeve to make it less painful. At some point, you might even turn to incentivizing to overcome their obstinance, like you might do for a child.

However, if that employee were to win Powerball tomorrow, would they be screaming, “But this is how I’ve always done it. I don’t want that money! It would change everything!” Odds are no way you nor the “Who Moved My Cheese” grumps nor anyone else in their right mind would resist that change.

Change management is all about expectation setting and perspective.

When you can know for a fact that there’s money or some other positive outcome on the other side of change, you don’t need to turn to your bag of tricks to get people bought in. When you frame up the conversation from the beginning that a finely monitored, easily tracked process will help your team and organization “win the lottery” and be able to measure the results, you’ll get change champions leading the parade to the other side of the process change.

Positioning Change as Inherently Good

I owe this recent change in perspective on change management to Gregory North from Globe North. I recently had the pleasure of attending the OpEx business transformation conference, and the topic of change management was on everyone’s minds. Greg kicked off the first day with a keynote and this quick group exercise.

He asked the room, “Raise your hand if you feel that people naturally resist change.” As you would suspect from a room full of VPs of Operation and other change management professionals, 99% of the hands in the room shot up into the air.

Greg then proceeded to say, “What if I told you that I had a check for $25 million dollars in my left pocket and a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury in my right pocket stating the money was tax free. Raise your hand if you think that $25 million dollars would change your life.” Everyone’s hands shot up into the air once again.

Greg told everyone to keep their hands up and asked, “Everyone who wouldn’t take the money, put your hand down.” No one lowered their hand.

Greg laughed a bit and said, “You all just told me that people naturally resist change. Yet, when I told you that I would give you life-changing money, every one of would still take that money.”

We tend to resist change we perceive as negative.

Learning from OpEx Professionals

The OpEx conference consisted of professionals dedicated to the idea of organizational change. I found myself in the trenches on the front lines of change the minds and hearts of individuals for the overall good of an organization.

Everyone was exchanging war stories of people being dragged, kicking and screaming into a new change or process. Most of the stories centered around the idea that people tend to get ingrained in their routine and if you’re proposing a change, you may encounter a general lack of excitement.

How do you overcome this issue?

Prioritize Communicating Expectations at the Individual Level

Your main tactic as a change management agent in your organization is to give employees a clear understanding of 1. how their responsibilities will change from the status quo at an individual level, 2. how their new tasks will affect the company as a whole, and 3. how great the outcome will be on the enterprise scale.

Paul Strebel touched on this topic in an article from 1996 (yes, people have been dealing with change management issues since the 90s). Strebel refers to this idea as the idea of a “personal compact.” Basically, the personal compact is the relationship between the individual employee and their duties to the organization.

Paul writes, “…[C]orporate change initiatives, whether proactive or reactive, alter [the personal compacts’] terms. Unless managers define new terms and persuade employees to accept them, it is unrealistic for managers to expect employees fully to buy into changes that alter the status quo.”

How often are you communicating about the changes your proposing?

Set a Regular Cadence for Organization-wide Communication

Assuming you already have a way to track your transformation plan, so you can easily see alignment, ownership, and areas that need attention, communication is the next all-important part of your change management process. When you have a process like this in place, collecting data and running status meetings becomes quicker and more efficient, so you can make better decisions.

In my experience, most organizations are sharing the results of their strategic plan twice a year, if that. That’s not frequent enough.

If your strategic plan outlines the change you’re proposing for your organization and you’re not consistently reviewing it, you run the risk of violating your employees’ personal compacts.

Take the time to communicate with your employees to get buy-in from the front lines, and reinforce it with communication and encouragement from your executive level.

Reexamine Your Plan for Maximum Effectiveness

To further drive the point home, The Harvard Business Review examined why people tend to resist change.

The one reason outlined is excess uncertainty.

The author of the article, Rosabeth Moss Kanter states that, “to overcome inertia requires a sense of safety as well as an inspiring vision. Leaders should create certainty of process, with clear, simple steps and timetables.”

Would you classify your plan as one with certainty of process, clear steps, and timetables? If not, why not?

Keep Adapting

Once you’ve optimized your plan to make it fully executable, communicated expectations, and painted a picture of a positive outcome, is that all you need to do? No. Your work is never done.

And the great news is – it isn’t possible to overshare. You can’t over-communicate expectations or results. The only way to win the war against teams who think they’re averse to change is to get rid of any excess uncertainty. Only then can you get the buy-in you want on your change initiatives.