Resistance to change

Are you resisting change, or are you creating change and need to work with your staff to get them to accept it?Time for change

Either way it is good to understand resistance to change, where it comes from and what can be done about it.

You may have read our contribution about Results being achieved by a balance between Quality of the proposed measure and Acceptance of it by those who are affected. This is where the resistance to change becomes an issue.

Changing just for the sake of it is not recommended, you need to have a good reason to change something or you will not be able to overcome people’s resistance to change. People are creatures of habit and generally do not like change all that much. My supermarket just adjusted the store layout. Although I can see how more convenient this is and how much more choice of different products I now have, it took me a while to like this improvement as I had to change my regular route through the store to get my groceries in record time. I’m similarly slow in accepting new windows version. Although they may be a great improvement, I stuck to windows xp until they withdrew all support.

When change eventually benefits the people who will be affected, it will be easier to work on their resistance and get them to accept the change faster. When the change however is great for your department or the company as a whole but not directly beneficial for the ones affected by it, you face a more firm resistance to change.

An example would be having to change the layout of a report that gets generated in your department to help other departments making a better use of the report.

Your staff won’t be impressed by your arguments about how great this is for other departments and how much more they will like your department. Making the case that this change will directly improve profitability and thus their bonus may also be a stretch.

So what can you do? Here are some recommendations:

Focus on the Future: Always focus on explaining the new situation, do not dwell on comparison with the old situation. We changed benefits for our employees rather dramatically but instead of making comparisons about what they would loose we made an effort to explain to them what they still had and the reaction was great appreciation as evidenced by our surveys.

Be  knowledgeable: Know what you are talking about. Without a detailed understanding of what the change means to your staff, you won’t have any credibility to make them accept the change.

Be inclusive: Involve your staff in making the change. This may sound a risky strategy but if you have the right parameters in place and have clear goal clarity for why the change is necessary you may be surprised in how much this will help them overcoming resistance to change and how you can get some of your staff helping as champions of the change.

Over-communicate with all involved. Make sure no misunderstandings or false conceptions about the change can exist. Take action on every rumor or sign you notice where the change is portrayed in the wrong way.

Address the ME-ISSUES first. People get very anxious when their livelyhood is threatened.

Reward making the change successful. Do not just take your staff changing their work for granted, reward them, either in a bonus scheme or if it is a smaller change just with a party to celebrate and recognize their work in making the successful change.

R=Q*A The magic formula

Results equals Quality times Acceptance.

The hypothetical calculation would be: 10,000 Result can be gained if you provide 100 Quality with 100 Acceptance. Well from this it follows that the result will be 0 if you put in 100 Quality but fail to gain any Acceptance and likewise if everyone loves your solution but it has absolutely zero Quality the end result will be 0 as well.Male and wearing a business shirt writing the question Are You Getting Results? in white text on a blackboard

Most managers are smart people, they get chosen for their expertise rather than for their managerial skills. Managers tend to over emphasize the Quality aspect of the job. There are whole Quality control departments but only few departments that focus on the Acceptance of the proposed solution.

Creating acceptance is giving people some control, within boundaries, over a piece of the project. It could be the pace of implementation, the scale, some of the impact, but anything to create acceptance will go a long way and improve your overall result.

Another popular way of saying this is: “Do not let the ideal be the enemy of the good.”

If you create an ideal project, but you get too much opposition to get the desired results out of it, you may want to rethink it and go for the next best option, still good but not ideal but now acceptable to more affected people and thus a more useful project.

Where is the line between creating acceptance and giving in to demands from the “opposition”? In our western democratic society we see it every day; politicians won’t give in to the demands of their opposition and as a result no legislation is passed and the cause remains unsolved.

Political parties spend an inordinate amount of time and resources highlighting why the other party has it wrong, without looking at the pieces that would lead to some cooperation and are generally accepted between the two parties. Also, it is my belief that if you would be able to go back to the constituency with a clear explanation of what the viewpoints are, a solution would be in the making soon but politicians in general do not want to be seen as bowing to the other party so they continue to paint the other viewpoints in a grim light and the country continues to have the issues unresolved.

Unfortunately in teams at a company level, the same behaviors occur. People get over involved in their departments’ or their own views and lose sight of the ultimate result that the company needs.

There is no fixed formula for maintaining the quality of your projects. You will be judged by the results, as measured against the goals. Some people are more inclined to lower the Q to 80% and work to get some 50% acceptance, some people have an easier time lowering the Q to 50% but then enjoy 80% acceptance. The Results will be the same.

Results are accomplished by having a balance between Quality of the solution to the issue and Acceptance of that solution by the intended audience. Sole focus on Quality will yield an academic result that won’t get implemented, sole focus on Acceptance will yield a solution that won’t get the Results.

You are your own best resource

Aristotle said it well: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.

This is also true in your professional career. In much of what you do and experience, you will take your own situation and your own value system as the norm and rate all other experiences against it.

This behavior is only natural but you need to ensure that you have the best information about yourself that you can get. So make sure you seek feedback at regular intervals. Do not think that just because no one is complaining that you are doing a stellar job.

People are not inclined to share bad news or comments easily. They tend to pay you compliments but will discuss your opportunities for improvements with others before they’ll share it with you. Remember as soon as you enter a room or meeting you are being evaluated from all sides and people have opinions about you and your views. As soon as you leave the room or meeting those views will be shared, but not necessarily with you.

So what can you do? Well for starters, be alert to each and any piece of feedback you can get. Engage when you believe your message is not fully supported, get to the bottom of the issue and do not skim over the surface believing it will sort itself out. The quality of your work may be great but for it to deliver results most likely you will need the cooperation of others. Oftentimes listening to others and taking some of their suggestions to improve the acceptance of your work will yield better results than continuing to push your own agenda.

Seeking feedback, through a 360 feedback tool, from seniors, subordinates and co-workers is not the only way to become more self aware. You can also take a test to find out more about your own style and personality. The Caliper profile is a great tool for this.

Other than that it helps me to keep a diary with notes and plans. From time to time I review it and flip back several months. Interesting input to see how you started a project and where you ended up. Try it, you will get additional feedback and insights from it.

As we evaluate the world using ourselves as a measure, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that measure is well calibrated and so seeking feedback and digging into the inner-workings of your personality is essential.