Change is something that many of us dread. But why do we do this, when it is such a consistent part of our lives?
Let’s consider the well-known book Who Moved My Cheese. If you haven’t read it, we highly recommend doing so (it’s short enough to read in a taxi ride to the airport). To get us up to speed, the book goes a little something like this: it’s a story of two mice and two humans and how they react to their changing environment, or in the case of the book, the cheese. While some adapt quickly to the change and embrace it, the other holds on to what it already has, refusing to accept that the original supply of cheese is not quite what it once was. It’s a good parable if not taken too literally about the importance of embracing (and in fact looking forward to) change.
There are several poignant remarks about the humans in the story who refused to let go of what they had, providing some interesting insight into why many of us don’t like to embrace change as much as we should.
- We fear what we don’t know: it’s a well-known saying but it’s still very much true today. It’s not only relevant to the workplace, but in almost every aspect of society. We grow comfortable with what we know and fear that change might, or will, bring discomfort. This is perhaps the biggest challenge to overcoming change resistance and cannot be underestimated. In overseeing change within the workplace, simply illustrating and sharing a positive picture of the future may not be enough. Change is a very personal fear for many.
- We tend to view the past through rose-coloured glasses: it’s easy to look back at “the good old days”, but this can be a dangerous perspective to take. As time passes, we forget about the challenges and issues we previously had and grow comfortable with what is in front of us. The biggest danger here is that as time moves on, we miss changes to our environment which necessitate us to make a change ourselves. Typically, when we finally realise that what once was is no more, we blame everything or everyone else instead of the real culprit – ourselves.
- The initial reaction to change can be crucial: this works both ways. It is crucial in any change initiative that the first steps are handled with care. Those who embrace change are much more likely to get on board and encourage others, whereas those who reject it are much more likely to resist. There are many instances where individuals will continue to resist change, simply because they’ve made their initial stance and despite seeing much evidence to the contrary, will continue to resist.
- The importance of not taking ourselves too seriously: this is particularly the case in a work environment where we often fear to show weakness. If we look to the previous point, stubbornly holding on to an initial viewpoint can be incredibly damaging to a change initiative and the general morale of staff. In today’s business environment, we would hope that we can all have a more balanced approach, laugh at ourselves for mistakes we might make and move on. Ultimately it will result in better staff morale and improved mental wellbeing.
So, where does this leave us in terms of change in the context of a business environment? What must we consider if we want to bring about successful change in our organisation?
Below are a few considerations which we hope will help you in your efforts. These tips apply regardless of the organisation or size of the change.
- Demonstrate to people how they are part of the change: much of the fear of change comes from not knowing what the future will hold. By taking the time and effort to help those impacted by change understand how they fit and can be a positive and active part of it is incredibly powerful. It’s about shifting the perspective of the change initiative from something which is impacting them, to something which they are part of. While I think many organisations superficially understand this, the level of effort required to do this effectively cannot be underestimated. It’s a long process of constant engagement and communication, and not simply holding a celebratory kick off session and then letting things run their course.
- Carefully craft the initial message: initial reactions are crucial to any change initiative. An organisation once kicked off a change initiative by providing very little information, only that change was coming. Most staff suspected redundancies and so moved on to other jobs; only no redundancies were part of the change. Unfortunately for the organisation, many of their core staff had left the business. When creating the initial messaging around the change, consider how it will be perceived from the outside in and ensure that any communication is two-way. This will not only help create an announcement which is better received but will better prepare you for any response.
- Create a culture where change is embraced: perhaps the most difficult consideration on this list, but one that is crucial. This is not to say that an organisation should be in a constant state of change, only that there is an acceptance that change will occur. It might be driven by changing strategic priorities, new technology opening new opportunities or a shift in the current market. The pace of change for organisations is only likely to increase and those which are not only well setup to adapt, but have a cultural acceptance regarding change, will thrive.
- Accept some people will resist or even reject change: the last point is perhaps the hardest to accept on this list. Regardless of change, it’s likely that there will be individuals who resist and ultimately reject the change. It’s important that those individuals are given every chance and opportunity to be a positive part of the initiative, but the organisation must also consider the negative effect these individuals may be having on the wider organisation. Most importantly, they shouldn’t dampen the efforts of the change team, who ultimately have their own role to fulfil.
Change within an organisation is a delicate matter, but one which is crucial to the success and continued competitiveness of many businesses today. A report recently published by the World Economic Forum stated that by 2022, over a quarter of jobs across all industries will be from emerging professions, i.e. professions which either have only recently existed, or do not exist today. Add in the increased pace of technological change and the business landscape, along with how we work, will certainly fundamentally shift in the next five, ten and twenty years.
In this context, we must embrace and enjoy change, rather than reject it. What tips or experiences you’ve had while dealing with particularly difficult change initiatives? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.