There are few words that are as dreaded by employees as “organizational change.” But is the fear justified – or is it the result of some all too common misperceptions by change leaders?
Based on my research and practice, I’ve identified five common myths about organizational change: what it is, why it often fails, and what to do instead.
Myth #1: Change resistors must be silenced. According to many change leaders, organizational change will only succeed IF you have “the right people on the bus.” In other words, any employees – regardless of their positions on their organizational hierarchy or tenure with the company – must “get on board” or risk being removed from the organization.
Why This Is a Myth: For the most part, change resistors usually have some very good reasons to support their reluctance to fully embrace the proposed changes. Why would any change leader ignore their experience and insights?
What to Think Instead: Change resistors’ ideas should be considered because they can forewarn of potential obstacles that can sabotage the change initiative. Plus these resistors can potentially become some of the company’s best change advocates IF the change leaders address their fears and concerns. Click here for more information on what I call the “Change Resistance Zoo.”
Myth #2: If you present a logical argument, then people will change. Business tends to be driven by quantitative metrics focused on achieving tangible results – which tend to be the primary focus of any change initiative.
Why This Is a Myth: If only human beings would consistently behave in a “rational” or “logical” way – but it’s not in our DNA. While human beings are logical and capable of rational decision-making, we are emotional beings as well. Our behaviors are ruled by our beliefs, values, and the all-important WIIFM: “what’s in it for me.”
What to Think Instead: Effective change leaders focus on both the tangible and intangible aspects of a change initiative. Employees’ fears stemming around potential job loss, demotion, or even closing of their office location must not only be addressed, but also incorporated within the strategic action plan. You can’t ask workers to embrace the destabilization of their work environment without addressing the question of what’s in it for them as a result.
Myth #3: Change occurs in isolation. Organizational change can be compartmentalized, which makes it much easier to forecast any potential effects on other areas of the business.
Why This Is a Myth: Organizations are constantly evolving, cross-functional, intradependent entities. As a result, changes in one part of the organization can (and will) have effects on seemingly unrelated aspects of the business.
What to Think Instead: Organizational changes affect the company’s lifeblood on strategic, operational, and tactical levels. A “tweak” in a company’s product can (and will) affect not only the manufacturing process, but also the sales, human resources, customer service, and marketing functions. A seemingly “little” change that can wreak havoc in a company’s short- and long-term functioning. Think outside the box of compartmentalized change and consider the obvious and not-so-obvious consequences.
Myth #4: To create transformational change, you must bring in outsiders to lead it. Because the company’s culture is often the target of transformational change, the only way to get a “fresh perspective” is to bring in change leaders from outside the organization – maybe from the same industry, but maybe not.
Why This Is a Myth: This is probably the most pervasive myth in transformational organizational change – and perhaps the reason why over 70% of change initiatives fail. Outsiders may have new ideas BUT they also are not intimately aware with how things currently work in the organization and why they are being done in this particular manner. As a result, there is often a lack of appreciation for the company’s history and an ignorance of the power of the company’s formal and informal network leaders.
What to Think Instead: Consider tapping your current workforce for ideas on how to transform the organization – rather than thinking of them as change resistors. Current employees have a great deal of intangible but persuasive capital within the company: not only do they understand what is currently happening (which means that they are uniquely qualified to highlight the underlying problems), but they usually have some great (but often untapped) ideas on how to improve things.
Myth #5: You can create change by sheer force of will. If you really want to change, then you will be able to change – it’s all about willpower.
Why This Is a Myth: If only change could be accomplished simply by willing it to happen. It can’t. Successful changes take place by moving through the transition period connecting the past to the desired future – no one navigates this “no man’s land” without a clear road map and the necessary resources to reach the destination.
What to Think Instead: Change leaders need to provide the Four R’s throughout the planning and implementation process in order to ensure that successful movement through the transition period. A Road map that outlines the desired path to achieve the goal, the potential effects throughout the organization, and built-in flexibility to stay on-track when obstacles emerge. A compelling Reason for the change initiative that addresses tangible financial needs as well as the intangible emotional needs of employees. Sufficient Resources to support employees as they move through the transition period – including manpower, relevant technology, sufficient financial resources, and emotional support. Rewards that celebrate the short-term wins along the way to transformation; this can be financial or (perhaps even more important) time off or public recognition for employees’ often Herculean efforts.
Organizational change is not for the feint of heart. It can be confusing, confounding, frustrating, and terrifying. The first step is to debunk these five prevalent myths about the process of change. By replacing them with more proactive beliefs, both change leaders and change targets will be more likely to listen to the arguments as to why they must temporarily destabilize their current work environment in order to create one that is better for both the organization and them.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout: Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.