Monday, November 07, 2005

People Really Don't Resist Change

Have you ever witnessed anyone in the workplace resisting change? At some point almost all of us have seen this happen. Resistance to change is often mistaken as being a problem on the part of the employee or the "resistor." However, let's look at another possibility: people resist change for fear of being incompentent, not because of the change itself. Hmm...

As a general rule people embrace change. Look at different styles in clothes, colors and clothing combinations. How many times do you, or your friends, eat in the same restaurant day after day? Do most people go to the same place for vacation or entertainment? As a general rule, not. Most people try different things on a daily basis. How could that possibly be interpreted as being categorically "change resistant?" What else would possibly make an individual resist change?

It really isn't change that people are concerned about. It's concern for not being prepared or being incompetent. Quite often leaders treat the wrong problem when they rant about about being "change friendly." What they should be addressing is the individual's need to understand, learn and be prepared for the change instead of a philosophical rant that does not help address their individual concerns. If you find that your employees have bad attitudes about their work, perhaps you want to spend some time studying what they are really saying.

The consequences of incompetence are usually quite visible and audible. For example, it is frustrating when we cannot do what we think we should be able to do. It is irritating to spend time learning new ways of working and it can be humiliating (personally and publicly) to fail. It is unrewarding to redo your work. Is it any wonder that people resist change when it is these situations that make them appear and feel incompetent?

What can a leader do to reduce the effects, and resistance, to change? Here are some suggestions on how to address the real problem so that your project does not get derailed by the cause.

Give a reason to adjust. Answer the question of "why" change is needed. Employees are far more likely to be supportive and embrace the change when a logical or business reason is given.

Provide the tools. Becoming competent is a learning process and it takes time, and sometimes practice. Build training and practice time into the change schedule. This does not have to be an extended period of time but you should provide some teaching, and on-the-job instruction. Give your employees a place to learn and they will.

Allow for time to adjust. If you want your project or change schedule to go as planned you must allow time for people to learn. People need time to adjust to doing new things.

Give recognition. Always give recognition and credit where it is due. Tell employees how much you appreciate their effort and contributions to the change. Recognize their efforts and celebrate the victories together.

Give feedback. During the change period it is critical that you give feedback. Share with employees the results in an effective and timely manner. Assure them, at the start of the change period, that you will give them accurate and timely feedback.

Sound simple enough? To avoid resistance to change give them a reason, the proper tools, time to adjust, recognition for effort which is followed by feedback. Maybe the whole reason people resist change is because leaders are not presenting it correctly. What we do know for certain is that change is inevitable and that managers must effect changes to the work environment. How successful you want to be at change is up to you.

Copyright M. A. Webb, 2005. All Rights Reserved

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