Change is a natural part of life. In fact, many believe that change has become the new status quo.
But changing is rarely easy for the people who have to modify – sometimes radically – the way that they do things, their self-image, or even their goals.
In organizational change, the underlying reason is usually in response to shifts in the external environment. The examples are seemingly endless: A new competitor has entered the marketplace and “stolen” some of your customers. Or perhaps a new law has drastically challenged your current payroll strategy.
Organizational change can also be in response to internal shifts, such as a new vision, business model, or target market.
But, whether the reason for the change is external or internal, the arguments made in support of the change are usually based on what the company “should” do – whether they want to or not.
And therein lies the rub: organizations can only change when its people change.
When demands are made for people to change their normal behaviors or habits, there is an understandable pushback. What is often overlooked is that this so-called “change resistance” can provide valuable insights into the nature of the change initiative.
But these insights can only occur if we actively solicit employee feedback before, during, and after the change.
Unfortunately, in most change initiatives, many of these change resistors are ostracized or transitioned out of the organization.
As human beings, initial resistance is somewhat of a hardwired response to change. Just like the 3-year-old who crosses his arms and shouts “No!” when it’s time to go to bed, the logical arguments (or why sleep is necessary in order to avoid crankiness and unhappiness) usually fall on deaf ears.
In other words, although we know that the child should go to bed, he doesn’t want to go to bed. Even though he might be forced to go to bed, it is a time-consuming, emotionally draining ordeal for both parent and child.
The same can be true of employees who are told what they should do as a part of the change initiative…but really don’t want to do.
Addressing what we should do as well as what we want to do should be an important consideration in any change initiative.
Addressing the “Should Do” of Change
Corporate leaders often have very logical, reasonable, and comprehensive reasons to change the long-term strategy or daily operations of their organizations. They often argue their case via spreadsheets, pie charts, bar graphs, trend charts, and any other data-driven tool that can support the rational reasons underlying the need to change.
While analysis is a critical part of the planning stage of any change initiative, the role of the change manager cannot rely on pure analysis to motivate workers to change. Organizational change is a major undertaking that can take years to fully incorporate into the existing culture – and can be emotionally draining for the entire workforce.
Although threats of what could happen if the organization doesn’t change can initially inspire fear-based change, people don’t like to live their lives in fear. The “doom and gloom” prophecies that threaten workers’ sense of security—either now or in the future – will often result in key employees and high achievers “jumping ship” to an employment situation that is less frightening.
To sustain the long-term motivation necessary to change an organization, the focus needs to shift from managing employees to change by telling them what they must do. Instead, change leaders need to inspire employees and seek their participation in determining the best way to create the change as painlessly and effectively as possible.
The logical “should” of a change initiative is only one part of the change equation because intellectual arguments are insufficient to inspire workers to put forth the additional effort needed to transform the workplace.
Addressing the “Want to Do” of Change
People need to be motivated to change – and motivation is not only inherently internal, it is also emotional.
Addressing this “want to do” part of the change equation requires tapping into WIIFM: “What’s In It For Me?” Unless employees are confident that there will be a benefit to them as a result of the change, it is doubtful that they will commit wholeheartedly to the necessary actions that will radically transform the organization.
In contrast, employees will often “go the extra mile” when they understand the value of the change initiative AND they have participated in the planning and implementation activities related to that initiative.
When people participate in identifying what needs to change, they are more likely to embrace the necessary activities that will create that change. After all, if it’s something that I recommended, then I have a vested interest in ensuring that it will lead to the desired outcome.
Puleo’s Pointers: 3 Ways to Inspire Employees to Change
- Take the time to involve employees in the planning stages of the change initiative. Be sure that they represent the various functional areas of the organization and come from different levels within the organizational hierarchy. Not only will this assist with employee buy-in, but it will also generate some insights into the implementation plan that can easily be overlooked by senior leaders who are not intimately involved with daily operations.
- Treat employees like adults, not children. Relying solely on the “shoulds” of a change initiative is the equivalent of a parent dictating actions “because they said so.” Pushback is inevitable. Instead, recognize that your employees are your only non-duplicatable competitive advantage and they were hired because they have expertise to perform their jobs well. Tap into that knowledge by respecting their input and concerns.
- Schedule two-way conversations that address employee needs and fears associated with the change. Announcing the change via a lecture by the CEO or an article in the newsletter typify one-way communication. Such messages to change can easily be interpreted as being talked at rather than talking with. But two-way conversations in live town hall meetings or even discussion boards in a special change-related online chat room enable better identification of the workforce’s WIIFM’s – which can then be used to modify, expand, remove, or add programs to the change initiative that will better encourage workers to want to do what is necessary to create the necessary changes.
Although these three suggestions take time, they can create the foundation for tremendous future benefits in efficiency and effectiveness during the implementation phase. Employee pushback and resistance may still occur, but, through the use of participative management in the planning phase, it tends to be much less intense.
While the decision to change might be logical, the act of changing can be highly emotional. Some changes we should do, but we won’t actually do what is necessary unless we want to do it.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com. You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.