When change is hard, we sometimes blame "resistors" — people who refuse to change. We say that they don't "get it" or that they're defending their current advantageous positions, or that they're fearful, or that a few troublemakers misled them. If we don't blame the resistors, we blame the planners of the change. They failed to account for various difficulties, or their plan was defective, or they had a good plan, but they failed to execute it.
Sometimes we blame both the planners and the resistors.
Certainly there are defective plans for change. Certainly there are people who are reluctant to change. But both of these analyses overlook three central features of change:
- People have human needs and human desires, and we must deal with people as people.
- Systems are complex. Our understanding of how they work and how their parts interrelate is probably imperfect.
- Changing systems sometimes requires following indirect paths. The shortest path isn't always effective.
Here are two examples of the application of these principles.
- We might be unaware of external constraints
- Difficulties can sometimes arise from external factors not directly related to the change itself. These factors can seem remote at first, until we actually experience them.
- For instance, trying to change a process the mastery of which is viewed as essential to high performance can create motivational problems, because people see their expertise as being questioned.
- The plan to change the process is effective from a process design point of view. And the people who were affected weren't resisting change — they're just applying their own understanding of what the organization values. Unless we deal with external constraints like these, change is hard.
- The desire for change has emotional foundations
- When we plan change, People have human needs and
human desires, and we must
deal with people as peoplewe tend to make plans that follow direct paths in process transformation space. But the space in which change actually takes place includes the feelings, knowledge, and attitudes of the people who must adapt. Direct orders to "adapt or else" do not work well at all.
- People need more than orders to adapt. This is especially true of those whose work depends on knowledge, skill, and relationships. Understanding why we're making a particular change does help, but it isn't enough either. Desire to change — positive desire to adapt — comes about only when people identify with their work and with the organization.
- A plan to communicate to people what the new regime will be, without seeking their support, isn't defective in itself. As a communication plan, it might be perfectly valid. And the people who choose not to support the changes aren't actually resisting it — they simply don't identify with it. When active support for change is missing, change is hard.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- On Beginnings
- A new year has begun, and I'm contemplating beginnings. Beginnings can inspire, and sometimes lead to
letdown when our hopes or expectations aren't met. How can we handle beginnings more powerfully?
- Reactance and Micromanagement
- When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden,
or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain
some of the dynamics of micromanagement.
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
- When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the
issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But
not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
- Deciding to Change: Choosing
- When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how
they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects
most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
- The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
- Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes
often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.