By Audra Proctor, Director & Head of Learning, Changefirst
You are driving on the motorway with the rain hitting the windscreen faster than the wipers can clear it, and you’re probably driving a little slower than usual. Why? – because you need to feel in control. Fear of the personal consequences of what could happen a few kilometres ahead on a slippery road slows you down, and in the same way, the communication of organisational change has most of us slowing down until we can make sense of things.
You might say that, major change is not actually about change, but rather about control, which left unchecked can be very costly for change projects, although these snags and setbacks, fears and anxieties don’t necessarily have to lead to project failure.
A less than black and white concept in change is failure vs. success. Project managers would say that failure can be averted if you have a good damage control plan in place to track, identify, troubleshoot problems and develop corrective measures. Change Managers would expand on that to say that the question of failure vs. success is really one of whether the installation of a change solution will be sufficient, or whether real change success is measured in terms of implementation – aka user adoption, commitment and behavioural shifts.
So, not only is change really about control, it’s about damage control, but of a specific kind, to do with getting inside the minds of those impacted by change. So, how do we exert damage control that is in any way meaningful? The outcome may be the same; fear, anxiety, caution, resistance, but it can get wrapped up in all sorts of other excuses and false logic that disguise the real triggers. The answer must be that we identify and manage the triggers.
Managing the triggers to minimise the damage!
Over the years we've identified five key resistance triggers we need to be looking out for:
1. Future security
Once people feel that they could lose their jobs then there’s not much you can do to reduce their fear and uncertainty, but leaving things to the last minute only makes the situation worse. If it’s not true, tell them soonest and if it’s true, tell them sooner still with information about planned outplacement and re-deployment support. Even if people wanted to leave, their pride and sense of self-worth is hit from not being able to do it under their own steam.
2. Financial impacts
It’s becoming more common for organisations to reduce employee compensation rather than making lay-offs – the idea being that key staff will be in place and ready for the economic upturn. All you can realistically do here is explain the reasons and give them space to take it all in and make a decision about what they want to do.
3. Work Relationships
People value their personal relationships whether at work or socially. So early identification of where old relationships may break down and how you might be able to compensate for that, for example keeping people in the same building and/or setting up new social events and forums, can accelerate building the new relationships required.
4. Levels of responsibility
Regular changes to responsibilities are pretty normal in modern businesses, particularly in the Anglo-American business model. However, these changes are easier to assimilate when new responsibilities are clearly communicated, people can see a close connection between responsibilities and overarching goals, and there are big or small rewards that highlight the relative importance of new responsibilities.
5. Learning curve
One of the great writers on change and culture, Ed Schein, talks very compellingly about the anxiety learning creates during change and how these anxious people will quickly try to revert to the status quo. Ensuring that key people pilot and evaluate the training; confirming that support will be provided for skills development after the training; considering a temporary adjustment to appraisal systems to reflect the learning time needed to achieve competence and results; can all contribute to reducing the learning anxiety.
Putting both sides into damage control – project and people – helps people to give us what we ultimately need for success: control > engagement > commitment > results.