What is it about change that people are so averse to? While there are some areas of our lives where we’re constantly hungry for novelty, humans have a much stronger tendency towards stability. There is a number of reasons for this fear of change – research shows we subconsciously presume things which have lasted longer are better. When something seems old or permanent, we presume it has stood the test of time and is, therefore, good.
Organisations as a whole often have the same tendency, seeing change as something undesirable – businesses prefer stability: ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’. However, in a globalised economy of emerging markets and increasing competition, a refusal to adapt to new pressures, technology and opportunities can be catastrophic. It’s no longer an option to simply carry on as we used to – businesses need to be adaptive if they hope to succeed in this climate.
Companies have often taken a simplistic approach to managing the change they need to undergo, seeing it more as an afterthought than a crucial part of their strategy. However, given the increasingly difficult global business climate, preparing for change and managing it efficiently is no longer a luxury. The benefits of well governed change can be considerable, while the dangers of pushing through change badly can be very serious indeed. In this post we’ll be looking at why Change Management is no longer a luxury and explore some of the major reasons businesses struggle to evolve.
Why do we need Change Management?
Change Management is a process by which a company alters part of its strategy, its product or business model in order to achieve an identified goal. Companies decide to make such changes for a wide variety of reasons – be it to reposition themselves in relation to competition, the market, government legislation or to reach new customers. Whatever the reason for implementing change, careful management is key. The people most likely to be affected by any changes to the business are your workers, and failure to implement change well can lead to a real backlash:
- Staff may undermine the new approach – if they don’t outright reject it they may make management’s life very difficult.
- While not common, outright acts of rebellion and sabotage are not unheard of.
- Passive resistance is frequent and can wear away at a company’s success.
- Workers may leave
- The ethos and culture of the company can become poisonous and negative
On the other hand, well managed change can bring real benefits across an organisation, from happier workers, to a greater sense of purpose to an improve bottom line. So, are the major causes of resistance to change, and how can you overcome them?
1. Losing control
When a new company strategy, branding exercise or change of structure is implemented, many people’s first fear is that they will lose control of their roles and routines. This is partially about politics – no one wants to feel that they have lost the position they have been working towards for years. Yet it’s also about knowing what to expect, what your roles and responsibilities are, who you answer to and who answers to you. Losing control of that can be disconcerting.
- It’s important to give colleagues a sense of control over what is happening. Give them the power to input into the changes, to share ideas and have their contributions recognised.
2. Too much uncertainty
As you implement a new approach, many workers will feel confused and upset due to a lack of clarity about the future.
- Provide your colleagues with dates and a clear idea of what’s going to happen and when. More important than anything is that senior management communicate with colleagues and involve them in the change – rather than simply imposing it.
3. A sudden shock
When changes are announced with little or no prior warning, staff can feel very disorientated. Having your job role changed rapidly, or having to start using new IT systems with no time to prepare can be destabilising.
- Got colleagues involved in the discussion about the change from day one. Let them know what the change is, why the company is planning to make changes and what you expect this to entail. In the end it’s about honesty and transparency and giving people reasonable time to get prepared.
4. Feeling stupid
For individuals who promoted the old company strategy, or who don’t understand the new one, the fear of looking stupid or incompetent can be painful.
- Success here depends on how you define and communicate the change – it’s generally more effective to present change in a positive light – as a new opportunity, not as “better than what we were doing before”
Change Management is becoming an increasingly important process for the modern business. As your organisation transforms and adapts to a shifting market, having the best strategy and guidance is important for implementing change effectively, and can no longer be seen as a luxury or ‘added extra’. While change can be hard, when well managed it can be a fantastic opportunity to grow.