The idea that people always resist change is a lie, and it is extremely damaging to organization’s seeking to increase their organizational agility.
The truth is that people only resist changes that they either do not understand or for which they do not interpret there to be benefits great enough to offset the costs of their participation.
The truth is also that the natural response to a potential change in an organization is greatly impacted by the level of trust in an organization.
While it is a lie that change resistance is inevitable, it is true that executing change is hard. If it wasn’t, 70 percent of change efforts wouldn’t fail, but they do. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that most change efforts are communicated not explained.
Let’s look at definitions of both words from Dictionary.com to see the root of this difference:
Communication: A document or message imparting news, views, information, etc.
Explanation: A mutual declaration of the meaning of words spoken, actions, motives, etc., with a view to adjusting a misunderstanding or reconciling differences
You’ll notice here a big difference between the two mindsets – seeking to communicate versus seeking to explain. When you focus on explaining the change, you are focusing on ensuring UNDERSTANDING, and when people understand the change, and the purpose for the change they will be more likely to support the change.
We don’t resist change, WE RESIST THAT WHICH WE DON’T UNDERSTAND.
One great way for increasing your ability to explain change is the use of a tool like the Change Planning Canvas™ to involve more people in the planning of a change, which increases the number of people capable of explaining the change and its purpose, plus it provides a visual map of the change effort that explains the change at a glance.
This is not say that even when people completely understand a potential change and the purpose for it, that they still might not not fight against it, but they will be more likely to support the change.
The Change Planning Canvas™ is one of the more than fifty tools that make up my new Change Planning Toolkit™ that is now available via individual licenses for educational use and site licenses for professional and commercial use. It helps you move away from the incredibly counter-productive practice of planning change in isolation.
Organizations that do a better job of explaining their changes and the purposes for them, not coincidentally also tend to build up a higher level of trust over time, and organizations that do a better job at change explanation and maintain higher levels of trust are able to change faster!
But some people may still resist, why?
Some people may resist your change effort for a number of different reasons, but you need to identify up-front not only why people resist but also who will likely resist. Change Planning Toolkit™ users will want to capture the group’s thoughts on who will resist in the middle box of the People Worksheet from the toolkit and the corresponding box on the Change Planning Canvas™.
Some of the typical reasons why people will resist include:
- inability to see the need for change or relevance;
- loss of certainty (includes fear of job loss);
- loss of purpose, direction, or status;
- loss of mastery (includes loss of expertise/recognition);
- loss of control or ownership;
- loss of connection or attachment;
- lack of trust or clarity;
- fear of failure (feel unprepared);
- see proposed change as irrelevant or a bad idea;
- feel overwhelmed by thought of change.
You’ll want to identify the individuals or groups who have one of the above reasons for resisting change, and you will want to plan from the start to overcome that resistance in the same way that any good salesperson plans for objections, learns to hear them, and practices how to overcome them (for example, by developing and sharing strategies with coworkers).
In the Change Planning Toolkit™ I’ve provided space in the Overcoming Resistance Worksheet for your team to brainstorm both the groups and individuals likely to feel any of these reasons for resistance, together with space to capture some ideas for overcoming these objections (aka resistance).
The Change Planning Toolkit™ also provides the Five Change Reactions Worksheet which allows you to identify which groups and individuals tend towards each of the five change reactions highlighted in this worksheet and explained in my book Charting Change.. These five change reactions typically occur in a standard distribution (aka bell curve) and you can increase the chances of your change success by shifting enough people to the left along the curve.
So, there you have it, a quick look at The Big Change Management Lie about the inevitability of change resistance and some ways that it can be avoided or at least mitigated, and an introduction to how some of the tools from the Change Planning Toolkit™ can provide even more help.
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Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, builds sustainable innovation cultures, and tools for creating successful change. He is the author of the five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and the creator of the revolutionary new Change Planning Toolkit™. Follow him on Twitter (@innovate) and Linkedin.