What is a discussion about internal communications and change management without a little Office Space to lift our spirits?
If you’ve ever survived an organizational change, you probably already know that the unknown is often feared. The reason is pretty simple: reorganization often means disturbance to the status quo as well as a to employees’ vested interest in their jobs.
We are, of course, all very focused and concerned abou those events that impact our jobs, our goals, our ambitions, or day-to-day activities, and our comfort zone.
Or the “bubble” as I sometimes call it.
So to avoid upsetting these things, desperately needed reorganizations are often deferred which in the long-run, only cause sometimes severe losses in effectiveness adn escalating costs (eg. due to loss of productivity).
Reasons for Change
There are a number of internal and external factors that prompt organizational change. Kindly add more in your comments, I’m really just whetting the palette here.
Internal: retirement; new products/services launching; productivity levels diminishing; growth
External: government regulations; increased competition; technological developments; changing workforce
High Failure Rate of Organizational Change
There’s a very good reason that change management is a discipline of study unto it’s own. Highly trained professinoals in this field are well-versed not just in business and communications, but also psychology and aspects of social interaction and development.
This is most definitely an area that should be left to the experts. The high failure rate in this field can often be attributed to:
- over-extended project timelines
- morale kill
- escalating costs in managerial time
- fear of failure
- even changes that appear to be positive or rational involve some sense of loss and uncertainty
As well, the emotional upheaval cannot and shouldn not be underestimated. As logical as the change looks on paper, at the end of the day, these are peoples lives and inevitably, corporate decisions will be processed personally and emotionally.
Why People Resist Change
Without a doubt, the core of this is because we don’t want to lose something of value. But resistance also comes from a misunderstanding of the change and its implications; the believe that the change will not benefit the organization; and/or because of a very low tolerance for change (in all aspects of one’s life).
For my students, the following information goes hand-in-hand with the HBR assignment (found in Google Docs folder) on Change Scenarios.
Let’s look at what HBR has summarized on the topic of resisting change in John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger’s article, Choosing Strategies for Change.
One major reason people resist organizational change is that they think they will lose something of value as a result. In these cases, because people focus on their own best interests and not on those of the total organization, resistance often results in “politics” or “political behavior.”
Political behavior sometimes emerges before and during organizational change efforts when what is in the best interests of one individual or group is not in the best interests of the total organization or of other individuals and groups.
While political behavior sometimes takes the form of two or more armed camps publicly fighting things out, it usually is much more subtle. In many cases, it occurs completely under the surface.
Misunderstanding and Lack of Trust
People also resist change when they do not understand its implications and perceive that it might cost them much more than they will gain. Such situations often occur when trust is lacking between the person initiating the change and the employees.
Few organizations can be characterized as having a high level of trust between employees and managers; consequently, it is easy for misunderstandings to develop when change is introduced.
Unless managers surface misunderstandings and clarify them rapidly, they can lead to resistance. And that resistance can easily catch change initiators by surprise, especially if they assume that people only resist change when it is not in their best interest.
Another common reason people resist organizational change is that they assess the situation differently from their managers or those initiating the change and see more costs than benefits resulting from the change, not only for themselves but for their company as well.
Managers who initiate change often assume both that they have all the relevant information required to conduct an adequate organization analysis and that those who will be affected by the change have the same facts, when neither assumption is correct. In either case, the difference in information that groups work with often leads to differences in analyses, which in turn can lead to resistance. Moreover, if the analysis made by those not initiating the change is more accurate than that derived by the initiators, resistance is obviously “good” for the organization. But this likelihood is not obvious to some managers who assume that resistance is always bad and therefore always fight it.
People also resist change because they fear they will not be able to develop the new skills and behavior that will be required of them. All human beings are limited in their ability to change, with some people much more limited than others.9 Organizational change can inadvertently require people to change too much, too quickly.
It is because of people’s limited tolerance for change that individuals will sometimes resist a change even when they realize it is a good one.
People also sometimes resist organizational change to save face; to go along with the change would be, they think, an admission that some of their previous decisions or beliefs were wrong. Or they might resist because of peer group pressure or because of a supervisor’s attitude. Indeed, there are probably an endless number of reasons why people resist change.
1. Educate & Communicate
- this is ideal when resistance is based on inadequate or inaccurate information
- helpful if initiators need the resisters’ help in implementing the change
- requires good relationship between initiators & resisters
- needs time and effort
- ideally involves resisters in some aspect of design and implementation of change
- participative change effort
- participation leads to commitment; not merely compliance
- Requires managers to be supportive
- Calls for training
- Allow for time off after a demanding period
- Demands for listing & providing of emotional support
- Most helpful when fear & anxiety are at the heart of resistance
- Offer incentives to active or potential resisters
- Higher wage rate sometimes negotiated in return for a work-rule change
- One option is to increase pension benefits in return for early retirement
- Most appropriate when an employee is going to lose out as a result of change
- These would be covert attempts to influence others
- Co-opting an individual involves giving him/her a desirable role in the design or implementation of change
- For a group, giving a respected leader a key role in the design of implementation of change
- Force employees to accept a change by threatening them or by actually firing or transferring them
- Risky process because people strongly resent forced change
…if your people aren’t kept totally in the picture and informed and involved then don’t think any of these changes (programmes) will work. I don’t think you can have one without the other. It is vital to communicate the rationale for change, to communicate what the change is all about, to talk about the impact it will have on people, to allow that all important feedback about how people feel because if you don’t give people that escape valve of getting information back to you…then you end up [with] a vacuum.