Innovate. Leverage. Agile. Synergy. Optimize. Tactical. Best practice. What do all these words have in common? They are all on lists of “overused buzzwords.” The problem with these buzzwords is they start to lose meaning and they come and go, getting replaced with new and current words and ideas.
However, every once in a while the concept behind the buzzword is actually a key business idea that should not be overlooked. For example, the 1920’s buzzword “assembly line” or the 1950’s “just in time” philosophy.
Change management. Another buzzword that gets thrown around organizations. Or is it actually more than a buzzword? What does it actually mean? Is your organization “doing it?” Are they doing it right?
Like every organization, your company makes hundreds of changes a year. A current HR procedure is updated to make a process easier for the HR team. Or, your ERP system is upgraded to the current version, since the one currently being used is over a decade old. Some of these changes are small and are barely a blip on the radar of most individuals within the company and some affect just about every single person in the organization.
Organizations think that resistance to change is bad, but it is in fact natural. Companies are built to resist change. There are structures, rules, policies, procedures and missions that narrow down a company to ensure that everyone is working towards one goal. And all these things are necessary and required. They are the reasons that organizations are safe to work in and ensure that laws are being obeyed. Highly regulated organizations are especially built to resist change because it is entrenched in everyone that going against a change could cause a mistake and a mistake could be catastrophic.
The first piece of change management is helping the organization change. Think about your company: What is the overall culture? How hard, or easy, will it be for the “company” to change? While it is not often viewed this way, the organization has a personality that has been formed based on its experiences, just like people.
Within a company, before you get to the individuals inside, there are also “personalities” within departments. All the time people refer to departments like they are a single person. “This is being done to help accounting” or “this is going to benefit HR.” What if there are changes being made where techs are going to be moved from engineering to the purchasing department? The engineering group may have a more prestigious perception around the company, so those individuals within the engineering group, as a whole, are going to be negative and resist the change. This resistance and negativity is going to move into the department and as a whole.
The second piece of change management is dealing with all the individuals that are going to be affected. As previously stated, anytime there is a change there is going to be resistance. Typically what happens in a company is that the peak resistance to the change is right before the change is going to take place. In the figure below, the red line shows the typical resistance – what good change management is going to do is move that resistance. Ideally you want the peak resistance to be as early as possible to allow for as much time as necessary to get everyone on board.
The top five reasons why front line employees resist change are as follows:
1. They are not aware of the underlying business need for change
2. Lay offs are announced, or it is assumed, will be announced as part of the change
3. They are unsure how their current skills will be used to succeed in the future
4. They are comfortable with the current state – their jobs, relationships, sense of accomplishment, etc
5. They think they will need to do more with less resources or the same pay
The common thread in these reasons is fear. Without a change management plan in place, individuals will talk amongst themselves which will only create more fear. By the time their fears are brought up to their managers, they are in full resistance mode. When managers are not prepared and they run into this resistance, they try to sell the positive. The individuals are told “you’ll love it!”, or “your job will be easier!” The fact is there are likely legitimate negatives there as well. Most changes will require new learning and there will be a learning curve. Perhaps job descriptions will change. But by only focusing on the positives, individual’s expectations are going to become impossible to meet. In fact, change management is really about managing expectations.
Change management needs to be ingrained in an organization. As soon as your company starts to conceptually think about a project, what it’s going to do, what the outcomes will be, and what the consequences of the change are, you should start scoping out the change management piece as well. Where will resistance come from? Who will come out ahead? Who is going to be left behind?
Below is a figure that shows an individual’s adaptation to change.
Remember, resistance to change is not bad, it is normal. The goal is to have everyone to Stage 4, Adaption & Commitment, as early as possible. For a project to be implemented with as much ease as possible, you do not want to be hitting that peak resistance just before the go live date.
Throughout the project preparation, you want to ensure that you are checking in with your employees to know where they stand. Different individuals will be at different stages. Different departments will be at different stages. Through the use of town hall meetings, surveys, and one on one discussions, your company can find out where people are situated on the adaptation curve and react accordingly.
The consequences of not having change management in place can include:
• Employees rejecting changes and refusing to work with the new system
• Sabotage taking place – both intentional and non-intentional
• Non-compliance with the way thinks now work
• Complaints and grievances
When the term is thrown around, it is easy to nod your head at it or just ignore it. But it is important to remember the concept behind the term: managing expectations and dealing with the resistance head on. Successful change management is key to a successful change of any size.
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