​How to change people’s minds towards change

By: Natasha Crooks

'The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new' - Socrates
 
When confronted with change, the natural order tends to be resistance - active or passive. The key to addressing this is understanding why. The factors and how they interplay will vary depending on the people involved, but can be generally separated into two categories - psychological, and functional.
 
Psychological motivations tend to stem from fear, or love. If you love something as it is, there is little motivation to change. If the nature of change is unknown, there is a tendency to fear it - as you feel like you may stand to lose what you 'have' or at least the comfort of what you know.
 
Causes for functional resistance have a more pragmatic base - upon gaining an understanding of the impacts of a proposed change, a person may judge that the change is not in their best interests, and will accordingly resist it - a striking example being a restructure which results in redundancies. 

A more passive, but no less challenging form of resistance is through prioritisation - a person may not have the time, or interest in being involved in the change process. This lack of engagement is detrimental to the success of change programmes as it is 'the person on the floor' who has the most to contribute in terms of their knowledge of how the organisation works, what needs changing, and how best to do it. But... they already have a day job...
 
So how do organisations address this resistance? There are a few options.
 
1) Ignore it. The change is coming whether the staff are on board or not - as a short term measure, this can save time, and money. In the long term, the results can be catastrophic. There are countless anecdotes of projects which fail because they were based on assumptions which were incorrect. 'Solutions' which simply won't work in practice in the environment they are being implemented in. Or, could have been done far better. Beyond projects not realising their intended benefit, it lays a foundation for at best a disengaged, or at worst, disgruntled workforce.
 
2) Address it on a case-by-case basis. It is unlikely that an organisation will only be addressing one change at a time. The realities of resourcing mean that attention is divided. As a bare minimum, organisations should invest time and money in demystifying change for their staff. Using various mechanisms to explain why a change is happening, what the impact will be, and how staff will be supported. This can go some way to reducing fear-associated resistance, and may also convert some to advocates of the change. Having the correct channels in place also allows some trouble-shooting, and anticipation/mitigation of issues.
 
3) Cultural overhaul. Ambitious, strategic, and long-term, it requires a commitment at sponsorship/leadership level to empowering staff, and expecting engagement as part of the day job.
An organisation where staff are expected to 'own' change must put mechanisms in place to allow it. 
This means staff are involved from the outset of any proposed change programme - at the 'we have a problem' stage - way before solution design. Management must support, and expect time to be allocated to change-related activities - even incentivise it!
 
When staff 'own' change, rather than having it imposed, the best solutions can be found, and sustained. Change is more likely to be expected, and embraced, rather than resisted. It will never be perfect, but an organisation which invests in becoming 'change mature' will likely be more agile, resilient, and, when the culture is fostered - innovative. A worthy investment.

 

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