Leadership Myth – People Don’t Like Change
By Mary Weber on November 16th, 2016
We’ve all heard it – “people just don’t like change”. Too often it is noted as the reason why a change initiative was not successful. I believe this is a convenient myth to cover up another case of ineffective change leadership.
Most people voluntarily change things in their lives all the time. We change clothes, cars, hairstyles, jobs, houses and even life partners. We like to order new food, try new restaurants and travel to new and exciting places. Most people enjoy change.
However, when we make changes in our personal lives, we have some control. If it’s a big change, we likely thought about it and planned it for some time. If it’s a small change – like ordering the fish instead of chicken – the consequences for error are quite small. It’s an adventure.
In the workplace, it can work the same way – if the change is properly managed. We can harvest some key change management ideas from how people plan and execute their personal changes. Our employees don’t inherently dislike change – they dislike the way in which the change is managed and communicated. No one likes it when change is “done to us”. We don’t like it when the change happens without context or does not appear to be well thought out. We dislike change when we are concerned about how the outcome of it will impact us. In short, when we have no control over any part of it.
As a change leader within your organization, it is your job to manage and lead the change in a way that enables the team to get on board and to eventually become part of the change. Here are ten effective change leadership concepts to keep in mind:
- As the leader, it is not your job to maintain the status quo nor is it to drive change for the sake of change. One of the first challenges of effective change leadership is to monitor and adjust the pace of change. Too little change may result in your organization lagging behind the market. Too much change at one time is not only overwhelming for your team, it can become a detriment to your core mission. I’ve heard the analogy that change leadership is like a pot of liquid brought to a boil. If we keep the heat too low, it won’t boil. If we turn up the heat too much, it will quickly boil over and make a mess to be cleaned up.
- Communicate the context of the change to your team. You have likely been watching trends, analyzing data and talking to many advisors to determine the right change effort. You have been ‘living’ the change long before it becomes real. Your team does not have that benefit. Leaders can get impatient when their team members “don’t get it” and jump on board with the change immediately. The team may be initially resistant because they don’t understand the need for the change – perhaps because you have not effectively explained it to them.
- Communicate the destination. Where are we going and what does success look like? As a leader, you must provide the vision of the future for your team. Just like we want to know where we are going when we plan a trip – I’m going to Florida instead of North Dakota. This allows us to visualize and plan for the change; to pack our bags. People do worry about the unknown. It’s your job to make sure that they are clear about the desired result of the change.
- As you create this future state, establish the direction but don’t solve all of the problems on how to get there. That comes later.
- Be honest about how the change will impact your team. Each of them is focused on “what’s in it for me?”. Good or bad, if they don’t know they will speculate – often creating worse case scenarios that are far from reality. Effective change leadership addresses this concern early and often throughout the change process.
- Get input about the change when you can. I am not saying that the change itself is up for consensus discussion. As the leader, you set the direction and make the big go or no go decision. Then, it is important to let your team have some input into the details. By doing this, you will start the transition from your change to our Your team has become a part of the process.
- As you set up various teams and taskforces to plan and work the change – recruit the Debbie Downers. These are the vocal, informal leaders who seem to complain about, resist, or outright sabotage new initiatives. They are the first to say “I told you so” when efforts fail. As painful as it may be, it is critical to involve these individuals into the change process. Ask them for their solutions and ideas to make the change work. The key is to set the expectation that they cannot just complain – they need to bring suggestions and solutions.
- Communicate progress and reward positive change (are you noticing a theme around communication here?). Too often leaders focus on change problems and watch for issues to correct along the way. I suggest that you reverse your attention and recognize both change efforts and good results along the way. Link the progress towards the end goal. Large change efforts are often very time intensive – it helps to acknowledge that we are indeed making progress.
- Celebrate milestones. Just like in a driving trip or when running a marathon, it feels good to accomplish small intermediate goals. We are a third of the way to our destination. I am half way through the marathon and it’s time for some water. Of course, this implies that the up-front change planning included establishing some key milestones.
- Stay the course. People do need to settle in on a direction for a period of time. Constant change in direction, particularly if it is not well communicated, will make your team lose faith in their leader. They will learn to wait out the ‘change du jour’.
Good change leadership involves planning and communication – before during and after the change effort. People really don’t hate change – they hate the way it is managed. You as the leader, can impact that and set up a positive culture of change.