Can we come up with a definition of change? The dictionary gives us a few, but the most relevant for the workplace, perhaps, is ‘an act or process through which something becomes different’.
And ironically, change is probably the only constant thing in the modern workplace! It happens often, sometimes very quickly, and so it’s a challenge for employees and management to properly prepare for it.
So why do managers and their teams find change difficult? Robert F Kennedy reportedly stated that “About twenty percent of the people are against any change.” There are some people who will distrust change of any sort and will try to revert to the ways things were, either subconsciously or deliberately. The result, shown by research from McKinsey and Company, is that 70% of all transformations fail.
People naturally resist change
The fact is, as human beings we like predictability and stability in our personal and work lives. So we naturally avoid situations that upset the status quo or threaten our own interests. This means that when faced with change, many people will initially resist. There are a number of reasons for this including:
They are fearful – of new ways of working, of losing their job or of having to move locations. The first question many people ask is ‘how will this affect me personally?”
They are battle weary – if they feel they’ve seen it all before or if change has been badly handled in the past, the employees will have good reasons for rebelling.
They feel out of control – with little control over events that are the catalyst for change, this triggers increased tension, uncertainty, anger, and stress. No-one likes having someone else’s will imposed on them.
Communication is poor – If your team does not understand the need for change, you can’t expect their buy-in. Especially if they think the way things are done now has served them well for the last ten years!
So how do the best leaders and managers mitigate these concerns and keep the team engaged and energised? There are two very important areas to include in your planning.
Identify and celebrate early successes. By building in early milestones and quick wins during the planning process, you have many opportunities to demonstrate positive progress. This validates the vision for change and provides momentum for the project.
Create experiences that support the vision. For example, if you want to make a change to a more collaborative way of working, you should be looking at how your workspaces are organised. Removing private offices and cubicles, and creating collaboration spaces supported with the right technology gives a very clear message about where things are headed.
Finally, going back to the definition of change, if we want to get more philosophical, Aristotle talked about change being ‘the actualisation of potential’. I love that way of looking at it because it demonstrates that change is a positive thing, and without it, we stagnate.