Change is inevitable.
Unfortunately, so is employee resistance to change. Stuart Smith, MD of Bourton
Group offers some tips for getting staff on side.
Many CEOs will tell you that
their biggest challenge lies not in knowing what the business needs to do but
in getting their people to do it. Resistance to change manifests in every
industry and, the greater the change, the more entrenched the resistance.
People feel they
have much to lose and little to
Letting go of old ways is difficult for one person, let alone a
whole factory or organisation.
Companies often fail to sufficiently consider the human
pressures of change programmes. This approach leads to the high failure rate
recorded in every study on change and transformation – they are remarkably
consistent in finding that 70% of efforts fail to deliver the changes planned
for. There is a myriad of factors to consider; overcoming natural resistance is
affected by how you engage people, the management style adopted, the degree of
involvement allowed, the amount of resource allocated, and the speed and degree
of the change sought.
Increase the likelihood of success
Before any change programme can succeed, there needs to be
dissatisfaction with the current state among the people who are being asked to
adopt new ways of working. This may relate to business
performance, culture, or working methods. It’s essential to be clear what is causing dissatisfaction at
the outset to ensure that the future state eliminates it. Where
employees are happy and are not
seeking to improve, it may be necessary
to fuel dissatisfaction by
showing them what “good” looks like to establish desire for the future state.
This vision of
the future state needs to emphasize both how the business will benefit and what’s in it
for the employees. If the individual is clear about their contribution to the
future state, they will be more willing to take on the extra stress and
workload required to manage the existing state
whilst building the future one.
Effective communication of the process is vital
Clear, informative, timely, outcome focused, and two-way
communication of the planned journey is critical. It is common for the nature of this communication to
be sub-optimal. Never underestimate the ability of even a very small number
of people to totally misunderstand each other’s
perceptions when they do not have a common and clear understanding of the steps
that are being taken.
It is critical to:
Define a vision - determine the current state, identify gaps,
assess capability for change Develop a strategy for the transition, with
redesigned processes and behaviours Gain the commitment of the key stakeholders
– particularly those who influence others (these may not necessarily be reflected
in the organisation’s hierarchy but are the hidden but highly influential
network of people who staff listen to and believe more than official
communication channels or management)
By doing this at the very beginning much of the “heat” and
natural anxiety is dispelled. Energy is instead directed at finding solutions
that meet the business need.
Sometimes, the belief seems to be that the later in the process
people are told the less they are able to object. In reality, the reverse is
true. By involving those people most affected early, reactions are less
extreme, solutions are implemented more quickly at less cost and the business
becomes more comfortable with embracing a continuous improvement culture.
Perceptions and feelings are not constant but they are somewhat
predictable. In change programmes employee emotions do not remain constant;
everyone involved will experience their own ‘journey’.
Additional resources and sensitive leadership from the top
A key factor for success in change management programmes is
whether you have the internal skills and people resources to enable change to
succeed, and that you deploy these correctly. If you believe that you lack the
resources then seek outside help at the outset. Resist a “suck it and see”
approach when you start and then ship in outside help when things start to go
wrong. Deploying the necessary resources at the outset demonstrates to the
business that this is a priority, builds trust and confidence in the team and
sustains early momentum. Allowing stress levels to build through a lack of
resources increases the likelihood that the whole programme will cost more and
The style of leadership adopted will to some extent depend on
the business culture. Taking a command-and-control, task focused approach will
achieve change quickly but may prove difficult to sustain – those involved in
the day-to-day running of the activity will feel less ownership. The secret is
to balance “transformational” leadership of creating visions and developing
ownership with old fashioned “transactional” leadership of getting it done in a
structured, disciplined way.
Providing focus and generating ownership alone is
There is a real need for these ‘inspirational’ aspects to be
supported by good honest leadership in structured and disciplined approaches.
Generating ownership of goals and tasks requires a change leader
to be clear on who has the greatest impact on performance and how to motivate
them. Ownership will also come if leaders engage teams in generating a shared
vision and help them recognise the contribution that they make to achieving
Above all, the objective of change leadership is the development
of higher levels of performance. Change leadership is an active process that
uses the best of transformational and transactional styles to achieve this and
in parallel recognises and manages the natural resistance in the organisation.
While the change leadership style should be adapted to the nature
of the work, it does not negate the need for sufficient commitment in
management time, financial and human resources. As a manager, if the programme
is not high on your agenda then it will not be high on the agenda of the team
working on it.
Change management and the future
One thing is certain, change, as a constant challenge, is
something every business will have to engage in more and more often. Businesses
will also have to get better at managing change. Consider carefully the need
and desire for change, the skills and resources required, the emotional state,
the leadership style and the outcomes you seek. As Bruce Barton, politician,
author and advertising executive, put it: “when you are through changing, you