Embedding the change #4 – Engaging the people

“Leading change in large organisations is hard work and offers little instant gratification,” writes Sachin Jain in the Winter 2014 edition of the ‘Harvard Business Review.’ Notwithstanding the process and systems changes that have to be implemented to the finest level of detail, it’s the human side – or the human resistance side – that can be the biggest hurdle.

The results can be frustrating.

What about the systems upgrade project that takes months and months to deliver and is finally declared a success only for managers in finance still to be using spreadsheets to do month end because that’s the way it has always been done? Or the introduction of the new Human Resources system that leaves staff disillusioned and lost because they weren’t consulted and feel poorly trained when go-live comes along?

Kotter continues, “although experienced managers are generally all too aware of this fact, surprisingly few take time before an organisational change to assess systematically who might resist the change initiative and for what reasons.”

A starting point – even before assessing how the work of different groups of staff are impacted – is to develop a high level analysis about where the impacted teams sit in relation to the change effort.

Consider categorising teams into one of four groups:

  1. Can change and will change – these are people who have the ability to change (they have sufficient resource, skills, time and motivation) and will go through with the change (they might have a visionary leader or stand to benefit from the change). These people are role models for the change and could be a catalyst to lift the change effort right across the organisation.
  2. Can’t change but will change – these are people who are willing to change – they see the programme as a good thing from which they will benefit – but lack the ability to change successfully for some reason. This might be because of lack of resource or skill or experience.
  3. Can change but won’t change – they have the ability to change but, for whatever reason, they are going to be difficult to change. For example, they fear their self-interest will be damaged, there is a lack of trust or they are afraid they will not be able to develop the new skills needed. The result is they show no support for the change programme.
  4. Can’t change and won’t change – these are people who lack the skills and resources to change and who will protect the current ways of working. One technique is to give an honest assessment of how important they are to the change programme as often such groups may be sidelined

As Kotter says, “individuals and groups can react very differently to change.” A simple model that categorises those impacted at this high level can be a good starting point to support subsequent change activities.

In our next blog in the Embedding The Change series, we will look further into the groups we have mentioned here, analysing what is required to provide a unified change effort amongst all your teams.


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