Managing change effectively starts with determining what knowledge, skills, and attitudes are needed to achieve the desired behavior and results. Leaders must know the concepts, principles, and techniques required for managing change.
Managing has a two-fold meaning: (1) to decide on the changes to be made and (2) to get the acceptance of those involved in the change. Training professionals can control the learning content. However, changing behavior is under the control of the line managers whose people are trained. Therefore, these concepts, principles, and techniques are important to trainers and managers alike.
10 “Managing Change” Concepts
- Everyone is resistant to change. Yes, everyone resists or resents change, but not all the time. It gets down to a simple fact: “How will it affect me?” The main reason why people resist or resent a change is that it will affect them in a negative way. For example, when in 1973, Sears’ management decided to build the tallest building in the world in Chicago and have all Sears’s employees in the area move there, not everyone was happy. Some people resisted the change because of the additional cost of travel, parking expenses, commute time, fear of heights, the lack of space, or the separation from friends. However, many welcomed the change because they would be in town for eating and shopping; be in the tallest building; look out over the city; and have better working conditions.
- People will not always accept changes decided on by “experts.” It makes no difference whether or not “experts” made the decision or the boss made it. Many years ago, industrial engineering consultants (experts) were hired by manufacturing organizations to make decisions on reducing costs. In most cases, some people (10 percent) lost their jobs. The attitudes and feelings of those who lost their jobs as well as the other employees were so strong that cost reductions rarely occurred because of the negative attitudes and lower productivity of their friends. Seldom will “experts” or “facts” have the desired result because the feelings and attitudes of those affected are so strong.
- If you want people to accept or welcome a change, give them a feeling of “ownership.” When I taught decision-making, I used statements to describe the four choices a manager has when making a decision: 1) make a decision without any input from subordinates; 2) ask subordinates for suggestions and consider them before you decide; 3) facilitate a problem-solving meeting to reach consensus; and 4) empower your subordinates to make the decision. In deciding on the best approach for making the decision, consider two factors: quality and acceptance. Regarding quality, which approach will reach the best decision? There is no assurance that one approach will come to a better decision. However, the more involvement (ownership), the greater the acceptance.
- People who do not understand the reason for a change will sometimes resent or resist it. For example, my pension benefits at the University of Wisconsin were changed so I could retire at age 62 without losing any benefits. I do not know why the state made the change, but I benefited from it and did not resent it. Any change that will benefit employees will be welcome, whether or not they understand the reasons for it.
- Empathy is one of the most important concepts in managing change. Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of others and seeing things from their point of view. Training professionals must determine the needs of the learners so that the program will be practical. Whether using E-learning or classroom approaches, they must communicate so that the learners will understand. In addition, managers must know how to help them apply what they learn.
- Persons who have no control over the people affected by a change can have some effect on their acceptance. A training manager once told me, “Don, I have no control over the learners when they leave the classroom, so it is up to their managers to see that change in behavior occurs.” This person was right in saying “I have no control” but wrong in saying it is strictly up to the managers. Trainers will have to use “influence” instead of “control” to see that change in behavior occurs.
- Managers should encourage and accept suggestions from all employees. What can they lose? In addition, they might gain new practical ideas as well as build relationships with the person suggesting the change. Yet few managers welcome ideas and accept suggestions from other managers because there is little if any difference between a “suggestion” and a “criticism,” no matter how tactfully the suggestion is offered. To receivers, a suggestion says: either “you are doing something you should quit doing” or “do something you aren’t doing.” Someone came up with an interesting and “practical” idea for improvement in performance. Instead of using the typical performance appraisal approach where only the manager appraises the performance and offers suggestions on how to improve, the “360-degree” approach was introduced to include appraisals and improvement suggestion from managers, peers, and subordinates. If managers do not even accept suggestions from peers, imagine how many managers will resent suggestions from subordinates. Organizations that use the 360-degree approach have trouble convincing managers that their people are trying to help them.
- If changes are going to be resisted, managers should move slowly in order to gain acceptance. Time can often change resistance to acceptance if the change is introduced gradually. Often people resist change out of fear of failure. You might decide to train the ones who want the new opportunity and terminate or transfer those who do not want to change. Alternatively, you might decide that you do not have to make the change immediately. Time, patience, and training eventually move most employees from the present state to the desired one. The question is “what is the hurry?” When you introduce change gradually, you increase acceptance, especially when you also encourage and help people adjust to the change.
- Effective communication is an important requirement for managing change effectively. This includes upward as well as downward communication. Managers must listen even if they are being criticized, which in many cases was meant to be a helpful suggestion. Instructors must be effective communicators by gaining and keeping the attention of the learner, using vocabulary that the learner understands, and listening to the questions and comments of the learners.
- Managers and training professionals need to work together for the transfer to take place from “learning” to “behavior.” An important principle has to do with the “climate” that the learner encounters when returning to the job. If the manager is “preventive” and operates on the attitude that “I am the boss and you will do it my way regardless of what you have learned,” no change in behavior will take place. Not only will learners be discouraged from changing, they will also be upset by all the wasted time. The ideal climate is where the manager encourages learning and its application on the job. The training professional must influence managers by informing them of the learning objectives and involving them in the training process.
The Three Keys to Change Management are Empathy, Communication and Participation
The aforementioned 10 concepts, principles, and techniques are necessary for managing change effectively. Managers must encourage people to apply what they learn and to transfer learning to behavior. Training professionals must be sure that the curriculum will meet the needs of the learners. The training programs must be effective using competent instructors. They must use empathy to understand the climate established by the managers. Then, they must work with managers to help them establish an encouraging climate so that the learning will be transferred to behavior change and results will follow.