Making Change Easier

As discussed last week, there are quite a number of causes of resistance. This week,  let’s look at how we can make change easier.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School gives this advice: “The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them.” A HBR article (How to Deal With Resistance to Change by Paul Lawrence, HBR January 1969), points out that there are 2 aspects to any change – the technical, which is the making a measurable modification in the physical routines of work, and the social – the way those affected by it think it will alter their established relationships in the organization. In many cases the social aspect is likely to be your root cause of resistance and it is likely to be more difficult to overcome.

Technical Aspect of Change

The technical aspects are generally a training issue, but care must be taken to ensure that sufficient and effective training takes place. Take the learning style of the trainees into account – as an example, don’t use a solely lecture style of training with people who are visual or tactile learners. In most cases allowing the trainee to work hands on with the new process, become familiar with it and get competent with it is a much more effective form. This also allows for the trainer to probe the trainee to determine a potentially more efficient way of performing the process. This will increase employee engagement but be prepared to give valid reasons if they come up with anything that you don’t want them to be doing. Try to anticipate any of those short cuts beforehand as your employees will find them and you may not get a chance later to easily correct them.

Self Preoccupation – Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Before we get to the social aspects, Lawrence cautions managers to be aware of what he calls “self-preoccupation”. This is when a change agent gets so engrossed in the technology of the change that they are promoting that they become wholly oblivious to other things that may be bothering people about how the change is being implemented. An example he cites is a process change that robbed machine operators of some of the satisfaction they derived from their work. Previously when they completed an item they would place the output at the end of their work station where everyone could see and appreciate it. The process was changed so that the output was quickly gathered up and taken away. The engineers who implemented the change could not understand why the operators were upset and solely focused on their logical arguments about cost savings (which were relatively small). The final result of this change was a permanent state of hostility by the operators and a chronic restriction on output. The engineers had the right intentions, but they narrowly focused on the technical aspect (the cost savings) that they could not see the social aspect that they were unknowingly destroying.

A Framework for Anticipating Resistance

Lisa Quast (published in the Nov 26, 2012 issue of Forbes), has developed a generic framework towards anticipating resistance.
1. What specific changes are included in the process?
2. Who will the changes impact – both directly and indirectly?
3. How will these changes impact them?
4. How might these people react?

When going through this framework one MUST take the viewpoint of the other people who are impacted. Two Israeli psychologists came up with a simple measure of personal resistance to change (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2010). They found four factors that help to predict an individual’s resistance to an imposed change at work:

1. Routine seeking. How much comfort do they take in their little rituals that a change could destabilize?

2. Stress and Tension. Any threat to stability can make some people experience a high level of discomfort. A change could lead to worry which can lead to a drop in performance for some employees.

3. Short Term Thinking. People tend to focus on immediate inconveniences and not the long term benefits, even when they are aware of them. Generally this short term focus will be somewhat irrational and will require a degree of patience to help the person work past.

4. Cognitive Rigidity. This is sometimes referred to as dogmatism. It refers to the degree that a person dislikes changing their mind and point of view. They also point out a further factor – what is the person’s attitude to the change agent (usually senior management)? You want to try to avoid scenarios where you have individuals who are  resistant to change, but also fundamentally distrust the person leading the change effort. If the messenger is someone that they do trust, then you have a good likelihood that the individual will work with the process and eventually make the change successfully.

Communicate It!

One other thing to have in your implementation tool kit is a plan to communicate, communicate and communicate. Explain why the change is necessary. Tell them what is going to happen. Spell out how the organization is going to guide them through the process and what supports will be in place for them. Keep them up to date as to how the project is going and how well timelines are holding up. In particular communicate any setbacks or delays and what steps are being done to correct them. This is vital as it shows that the project is fluid and learns from its own mistakes – a huge help in gaining trust. Someone who is hesitant about change will feel significantly more at ease if they know that changes will be made if a better way is proven. At the end of the day, the commitment to the change demonstrated by leaders and having employees understand why the change is needed will reduce the level of resistance and minimize any productivity loss that is not due to people getting competent with the new process.