Resistance can be good. Make Change Work!

 In Change Management, Leaders

It is too easy to appreciate the cooperative, positive people in the room.  It is just as easy to be irritated by the nay-sayers, the resistors.  If that is your modus operand you are likely missing some very valuable information and cues.

Did you know that change, according to your brain, is perceived as ‘error’?  Something is not right here… this is not how it used to be.  And, did you also know that know that the part of your brain that perceives ‘error’ is perilously close to the part of your brain that perceives PAIN!  Change can be pain.  Just as people have different levels of tolerance for pain, they also have different levels of tolerance for change.  But, there are things that leaders can do to make the change easier (and more effective) for everyone involved.

Read “Decoding Resistance to Change” by Jeffrey D. Ford and Laurie W. Ford for a great introduction to understanding the responses, from positive cheerleading to outright resistance to change.

Leaders how make change work:

  • know that change takes time
  • acknowledge the challenges, but demand performance
  • coach individuals through change

Know that change takes time:  Change can happen overnight, but acceptance of change is a process.  The most effective leaders understand that all things being equal there is a ‘bell curve’ of responses to change that looks something like this:  there are early adopters and late adopters at each extreme end of the spectrum.  Both of those groups probably comprise about 15% of the population each.  That leaves the 70% in the middle!  The middle group is definitely along a spectrum from what change experts call ‘late majority’ versus ‘early majority’.  That is the first thing any leader must acknowledge — no matter how big or small the change, no matter what you do or don’t do, the ‘majority’ will take some time to adjust to the change.  Each person will go through stages of change that will look and feel different.  Awareness of the reaction to the change and what it means for the stickiness of your change is critical.  Acknowledge it is a process.  Recognize the stages.  And, know how to respond during each stage.Acknowledge the challenge, but demand performance:  Often leaders have had significant time to consider the change.  There have been ‘board room’ discussions of the imperative of the change.  Leaders understand the risks of changing and the risks of maintaining the status quo.  Then, a plan is created and it is time to share the change and the plan with the rest of the organization.  Too often we dive right into the change we need and how we are going to accomplish the change without consideration of the audience.  The majority of the organization is hearing about the change for the very first time.  They will need time to understand, process, reflect, and make up their own mind.  The most important thing a leader can do in introducing the change is to have first considered the pain of changing and the pain of not changing from the perspective of the individual in the audience!  It is your job as the leader to have thought through the discussion from others’ perspective and to create a compelling vision of why the change is good for the organization and the individual.  And, even with that compelling vision, remember — for the majority, change is a process.

Coach individuals through the change:  When it is time to implement the change you will need to keep your eyes on the process and where people are in the stages of change.  Are they still in denial or resisting?  Are they open, but not quite ready to dive-in head-first?  Are they exploring or are they fully committed.  Depending on where individuals are in the process, your response and actions must be custom.  For those still in denial or resisting (i.e., the late majority), you have to continue to communicate the ‘why’; allow time for processing; ask questions; acknowledge fears and risks; and share concrete solutions.  You might have to plan ‘baby steps’.  Whatever you do, don’t minimize the value of resistors — they could provide you with exactly the information you need to nudge the rest of the organization even further!  For those in the stage of openness or commitment (the early majority), involve them in the process; provide a lot of training and information; enlist them as positive change leaders.  And, remember change is a process.

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