September 8, 2010 at 10:51 am #110257
From April 2009’s Harvard Business Review
Title: Decoding Resistance to Change
Key ideas from the Harvard Business Review article by Jeffrey D. Ford and Laurie W. Ford
The Idea in Brief
You announce a change initiative. Some employees are silent; others complain. You bristle at this “threat” and determine to squelch the resistance.
But wait: Resistance is a form of feedback from people with deep knowledge about your company’s daily operations. Treat their concerns as valuable information, and you gain important ideas for communicating and executing the change initiative. And you win buy-in essential for success.
Consider: A manager proposed merging the billing group with her call center to create a large customer-service function. Because this required cross-training in both tasks, everyone balked at the extra work. But when she asked them for suggestions for implementing the change, they perked up. One idea—billers and callers training each other—struck gold, and fostered collaboration postmerger.
The Idea in Practice
How to use resistance to effect productive change:
Explain What’s Changing
With any change effort, the jobs of people lower in the organization will change in ways higher-ups may not anticipate. Don’t suppress dialogue about what the change will involve; you’ll miss opportunities to gain these employees’ buy-in. Instead, encourage any talk about the initiative—even complaints and heated discussion. They might be the only things that keep a conversation about the change alive.
Help people who aren’t involved in planning the change understand why their jobs are being upended.
Example: An IT executive wanted to improve her hospital’s computer systems for patient registration and insurance reimbursement. She communicated regularly about the change with the rest of the executive team. But no one explained to rank-and-file employees how the move would benefit patients and the bottom line. Launch meetings were contentious until the executive arranged meetings for the entire hospital staff explaining the reasons for the change.
Look for the Pitfalls
Gather input from people who voice their reservations about the change. Often, they genuinely care about getting things right and are close enough to the company’s inner workings to recognize a proposed change’s pitfalls.
Example: The COO of a large manufacturing company wanted to consolidate two groups—product-design engineers, and capital-planning engineers—to improve collaboration and efficiency. The capital-planning engineering manager objected in strong but vague terms. When the COO probed deeper, the manager revealed that key players would leave if the consolidation took place. The manager ultimately proposed an entirely different plan that met the company’s goals more effectively than the original one.
To build participation and engagement in your change initiative, simply ask employees for their ideas on how to make the change work. By using their good ideas, you stoke their enthusiasm, sense of ownership, and commitment to the change.
Uncover Past Failures
Resistance to change can stem from unhappiness over problematic earlier initiatives. People expect history to repeat itself—and they resist going through it all over again. Find out what happened to previous change efforts. You may uncover clues to resistance to your current initiative.
Example: A manager of a vehicle-service organization who proposed updating the group’s technology encountered stiff resistance. He learned that his predecessor had promised raises and promotions to employees who mastered new technology tools. Though the employees came through, they never got the promised rewards because their then-boss left the company. After the new manager apologized for his predecessor, employees’ skepticism about his proposed change dissolved.
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September 8, 2010 at 11:10 am #110263
My dissertation in a nutshell. 🙂 Kelman (2005) argues that there is an ever-present group of employees who want change and are just waiting for a signal from management to initiate change – change vanguard. Change is all about transforming mental models and management just cannot mandate this transformation. Only the person can change his or her own mental models on their own. The best management that can do is provide the blueprint for change (the change vision) and the employees make the change vision their own.
Kelman, S. (2005). Unleashing change: A study of organizational renewal in government. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
September 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm #110261
There is change which is explained well, and identifies the sort of constancy in “the mission” that leaves employees with a clear sense of roles and responsibilities, and there is change which undermines role clarity, and consequently undermines engagement. There is change which assists someone to do their work better, or achieve more, and then there is nonconsultative change which impedes someone doing their job better. My experience with organizational change is that those who impose it think in terms of only those segments of the organization they are most familiar with, but don’t consult much beyond that.
The dedicated within any public bureaucracy are committed to a particular established vision of the mission of their organization. That vision lets them know not only what is to be achieved, but how the parts work together to achieve it, and how to get it done. Any successful change will leave that vision intact, or at least translate it to the new environment so that it feels, for the employee, that only the superficial elements are different, and the fundamentals remain intact. Some employees will be able to figure that out on their own. The majority, though, will not, and will require direct contact by management, or something that feels equally authentic, and can persuade them that what they’ve dedicated themselves to is still respected.
For some employees, being consulted is vindication, and what they treat as “recognition”. So when the organization changes, what value will their accrued knowledge have? What will permit them to feel that they still have value within the organization? How do they know they will continue to be consulted? Until that is resolved, do not expect their full effort.
September 9, 2010 at 12:12 am #110259
Henry, this is excellent. Another hit. Keep them coming!
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