Resistance to change
“Progress is impossible without change,
and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
George Bernard Shaw
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding change and none so pervasive or dangerous to the ultimate success of change efforts than the mistaken assumption that people resist change.
To state that “people resist change” is not only to assume that all people are alike, it's close to suggesting that they are still infants. Simply growing up requires many changes that most of us have gotten through with reasonable success.
Click here to watch a video clip that debunks the commonly held notion that people resist change by using an example that almost all of us can relate to. It challenges leaders to address the real stopper to successful change efforts – people resist the unknown.
Common complaints about leaders during change
Why aren’t our leaders communicating? What aren’t they telling us what is going to happen?
Leaders are often accused of not caring about people when changes are introduced in an organization. Interestingly, the evidence is overwhelmingly against that theory.
Leaders typically spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about employee morale and how change (especially major change) will impact people. Sadly, they do this among their own peers, usually behind closed doors.
What they fail to do is to communicate the change early and frequently enough that people can more successfully navigate the inevitable emotions that accompany change and the fear of the unknown that is illustrated in the video clip.
There are countless examples of employees finding out about major changes in their organizations by reading about them on the internet or hearing about them on the news.
When leaders do try to prepare employees for change, they often do it in the form of a one-time formal communication (speech during a staff meeting or a carefully crafted email) that does little to help people process the emotions of the change they will experience or get their questions answered.
They comfort themselves by calling what they did “communication.” We know from our research at Tero that one-way communication is a very narrow definition of communication. To be effective, it must be kinesthetic, visual and auditory. It must involve opportunities for questions and answers. And when the change is a large one, it must be frequent.
Simply telling people one time does not satisfactorily prepare people to experience the change any more than announcing kindergarten in the car on the way to school is going to be the best approach to prepare a young person for such a major transition in their life.
How much communication is appropriate? It depends. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Receptivity depends upon several factors.
- Some personality types embrace change more easily than others.
- Our receptivity increases when it was our idea or we clearly see our role and responsibilities.
- Change is easier to accept if it doesn’t impact me personally.
- Timing – what else is going on at the same time?
- Have I seen this change before? For example, people who have been through acquisitions in their past experience have an easier time in future acquisitions (if their experience was positive).
Sometimes, as a leader, trust is the only thing we can impact. Frequently we can’t disclose information about a change well in advance of the change unfolding. If people trust us, they will follow. Take a moment to think of people you will willingly follow. Do you trust them?