Many times, in order to survive, we have to start a change process. Change, for most people, is an unnerving experience. But as the old saying goes, change is inevitable. It’s one of the only constants in life.
I have said before that it is easy to change things. It is not so easy to change people. And therein lies the rub. As author Bruce Barton observed, “When you are through changing, you are through.”
Most organizations won’t survive if they don’t learn how to change as they grow and adapt to market conditions. But employees sometimes resist anything new — not because they’re stubborn or old-fashioned, but for these basic reasons:
They don’t see the need. Management must explain why the change is necessary — how it will help the company, customers and employees themselves. Set the stage for people. If employees don’t know what’s happening in the company and in its industry, they won’t see any reason to do things differently. Share as much as possible about finances, problems the organization is facing, and what’s likely to happen if nothing is done.
They’re afraid of the unknown. Employees may not understand exactly what they’ll have to do differently, or how the change will affect their daily lives. Or they may worry that they don’t have the skills they’ll need to adapt. Tell them what’s changing, and give them the training and support required.
Management didn’t seek their input. Employees need a sense of control over their work and their careers. Include them in planning from the beginning. Employees who know how the organization functions at the ground level will be able to help target the right areas for change, and they’ll be more comfortable with the result. Consider everyone who’ll be affected, from front-line employees to high management, as well as customers and other stakeholders. Provide them with updates on progress. Ask them how it’s going and what could speed things along.
They’re exhausted. Downsizings, reorganizations, new products and revamped org charts can take their toll. Employees may feel they don’t have it in them to go through another major overhaul. Take their feelings into account when announcing any new direction so they know management understands what they’re going through.
They aren’t focused on the long term. Change is a process, not a single event. Emphasize that it will take time, and to be successful, people will have to look to the future, not to short-term gains and losses. Remember that performance won’t be transformed overnight. Once a company has restructured, implemented new systems or launched new strategies, allow adequate time for a learning curve. Don’t be so impatient for results so as to sabotage people’s efforts.
They don’t see commitment from the top. Change needs to start at the highest levels of the organization. If management is not setting a spectacular example, demonstrating an absolutely united front, then the rank and file has no reason to jump on board. Will every manager immediately embrace new practices and procedures? They will if they value their jobs.
Be prepared for some resistance, and be willing to periodically assess changes to see if they are really producing the expected results. Then, and only then, if the outcome isn’t satisfactory, reassess and figure out how to change things for the better.
In his bestselling book “Who Moved My Cheese?” Spencer Johnson used a parable to dramatize human resistance to change. The story contains four imaginary characters named Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw.
Sniff and Scurry are two mice. Hem and Haw are “little people,” small as mice but containing all the qualities of human beings. All four characters are intended to represent the simple and the complex parts of ourselves, regardless of our age, gender, race or nationality.
According to the book’s introduction, sometimes we may act like:
• Sniff, who sniffs out change early.
• Scurry, who scurries into action at the slightest provocation.
• Hem, who denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse.
• Haw, who learns to adapt in time when he sees changing leads to something better.
“Whatever parts of us we choose to use,” Johnson writes, “we all share something in common: a need to find our way in the maze and succeed in changing times.”