Change scares the life out of most people. Even positive life events fill many with a sense of trepidation and fear. Aversion to change is why brides and grooms-to-be have second thoughts.
And these are all examples of ‘self-inflicted’ change. Force change on people and their fear of the future ratchets up several notches.
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” —Benjamin Franklin
Fear of Change Manifests Itself in Resistance to Change
In the organizational context, fears of change become resistance to change. You may find that people question new processes and procedures. They claim that what they are being asked to do is ‘plain silly’ and that the new methods ‘will never work’.
When an organization conducts change, it compels its people to move out of their comfort zone. It is asking them to do things differently to how they may have been doing them for years.
Of course, change is silly! People are far too busy to spend time learning new processes and adapting to new best practices! If your people consider that change is silly, you can bet your last dollar that the new methods will never work. This is the long and short of resistance to change – allowed to take hold, it will halt change.
Yet People are Always Changing
So, resistance to change is natural and you should expect it. Yet, people are always changing. They choose to put themselves through the stress of change. They get married, have children, move houses, they emigrate. They diet, give up bad habits and take up new hobbies.
One of the most nerve-racking changes that a person can make is changing jobs. Moving from one employer to another is a life-changing event. With each job move, a person must learn new working practices and systems. They must integrate with a whole new group of work colleagues, and learn to work under a new boss.
In 2018, research by The USA’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found that people have an average of 12 jobs during their working life. People decide to put themselves through head-spinning personal upheaval every four years or so.
In Australia, a 2017 report (published by the Foundation for Young Australians) forecast that young adults entering the labour market today ‘will experience a portfolio career with 17 jobs over five careers in their lifetime’.
Why would people put themselves through so much change, when it is natural to fear change? The answer, of course, is progress, improvement, betterment. Call it what you will. The fact is that the desire to change and become more than we are today overrides the fear of change.
So, Why do People Resist Change in the Workplace?
So, people are always changing, despite their instinct to fear change. The question, then, is why do they resist change in the workplace? Why do people disagree with the change in their organisation, but are always changing their lives?
Perception versus reality (what people say and what they do) are different. We all know how to lose weight (eat less and exercise more, right?), but few of us achieve our weight loss goals.
I believe the answer is that change in the workplace feels very personal. Social awareness of the drivers of behaviour is critical. Marriage, having children, and changing jobs are all examples of very personal change. The difference is the way in which the change is decided:
- You decide you will get married
- You decide you will have children
- You decide you will change jobs
In the workplace, it is the executive team or your boss that decides what will change, how, and when. The organization forces change. This could be the ultimate mistake made by organizations within the change process. They do it through a process in which people feel they have neither say nor any control.
Collaboration: The Key to Successful Organizational Change
Does a sense of ownership give change projects the boost they need to be successful? Research suggests it does. For example, a 2010 survey conducted by McKinsey, found that when you include employees in the change process, success soars to 75 %.
However, collaboration in the workplace is complex. Putting a group of people in a room and ask them to brainstorm solutions to a problem won’t work. You must use a structure that engages people along the curve of change. Engage them in identifying problems, creating solutions, and the implementation of change. This is what gives a collaborative approach to real muscle in the changing workplace.
A Structure for Collaboration in Change
Lynda Gratton of the London School of Economics found you need eight environmental conditions for collaboration to be successful. These are:
- Invest in relationship practices, such as open floor plans and transparent communication.
- Model collaborative behaviour by senior managers.
- Create a ‘coaching culture’. Aiding people through mentoring and coaching and helping them to build professional networks.
- Ensure people have the skills by teaching employees how to communicate well and build relationships.
- Support a sense of community, helping people to greater teamwork and knowledge sharing.
- Assign leaders who are both task and relationship-oriented. Typically, leaders will be task-oriented at the outset of a project. Later, they shift to relationship-oriented as the project progresses.
- Build on heritage relationships, and creating teams from people who know each other.
- Providing role clarity with task ambiguity. Define individual roles and combine with team latitude on how to achieve the task.
A collaborative change manager creates teams that are both task and relationship-oriented. They will continually seek to answer two questions:
- Are my people involved in discovering and creating solutions to identified problems?
- Do they feel responsible for their success?
Is Your Team Collaborating Toward Successful Change?
When building a collaborative team supercharged for change success, ask these questions continuously:
- Does the proposed change create a future that will fulfil personal and professional interests?
- Will it deliver what is most important to the people affected by it?
- Are you providing opportunities for people to discuss their concerns?
- Are people able to voice their views?
- Does the process of change enable people to share their knowledge?
- Does the process enable people to take part in solution discovery?
- Does the process contribute in a noteworthy way to the realization of the future vision?
If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, you have laid the foundation for a collaborative change effort. Your people will feel in charge of their own future. This will create enormous buy-in to any change project.
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