In many organizations, a time comes when their people decide to do something new. It's a hard decision. Sometimes these organizations are forced to change; that change is difficult, too, but in a different way. The change I want to consider here is the unforced change — the change we choose. Choosing to step into the unknown creates tensions in the organization that challenge leaders, break relationships, and disrupt power bases. People within these organizations sometimes experience this disruption in very personal ways. Exploring those experiences, and the ways people cope with them, can help us understand how better to plot a course into the unknown.
Let's begin with those who aren't parties to the discussions leading to the decision to change. Their opinions aren't sought. Indeed, they're often carefully insulated from any hint of the coming change. Sometimes the change is announced to them after the information is released to the media and the general public. Sometimes it's never announced. They can feel excluded, devalued, and distrusted.
The experience is painful. When it first happens to people, usually early in their careers, it can feel like betrayal. Some have been very loyal to the organization. Some were even passionate about it. Perhaps they've relocated away from family and friends, to homes better suited to the needs of the employer. And now the employer has made a change, one that seems purely elective on the part of the employer, without consultation, and without any warning.
In careers that span 30 years or more, learning of changes in this way might happen many times. After the second or third such experience, possibly at multiple companies, some people come to expect to be treated not as fully human, but as "human resources." After several experiences of being
excluded from major organizational
decisions, some people come to
expect to be treated not as fully
human, but as "human resources."They become reluctant to identify personally with the organizations that employ them. Initiative and motivation fade. Work becomes a means of earning money, rather than an avenue for seeking fulfillment.
Can anyone be honestly surprised when these people become cynical, resentful, distrustful, or even subversive?
Some organizational leaders accept this as inevitable. They deal with the consequences by removing from the organization those people most likely to adopt "unhelpful" attitudes — usually the older employees, and those whose skills and knowledge are perceived as least compatible with the new direction adopted by the organization. These leaders mistakenly view as a cost of change the loss of experienced people who best understand how existing systems work, and why they are the way they are. Fears of the consequences of "premature leaks" to the public are almost surely exaggerated compared to the losses incurred from cynicism and subversion.
We can limit these effects by trusting more employees, and including them in deliberations about changes to come. People who feel trusted reward with support those who trust them. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Is your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Workplace Taboos and Change
- In the workplace, some things can't be discussed — they are taboo. When we're aware of taboos,
we can choose when to obey them, and when to be more flexible. When we're unaware of them, they can
limit our ability to change.
- 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.
- Patching Up the Cracks
- When things repeatedly "fall through the cracks," we're not doing the best we can. How can
we deal with the problem of repeatedly failing to do what we need to do? How can we patch up the cracks?
- Learning-Averse Organizations
- A learning-averse organization is one that seems constitutionally unwilling, if not unable, to learn
new and better ways of conducting its operations. Given the rapid pace of change in modern markets,
one wonders how they survive. Here's how.
- Way Over Their Heads
- For organizations in crisis, some but not all their people understand the situation. Toxic conflict
can erupt between those who grasp the problem's severity and those who don't. Trying to resolve the
conflict by educating one's opponents rarely works. There are alternatives.
See also Organizational Change and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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