Resistance to change is observed by many as their biggest problem today. Why? Because change is constant, and yet most people get stuck. People resist changes done to them, but they develop a sense of ownership on the ideas they generate. So, I share a simple approach to reducing resistance to change by generating participative involvement and team support for new initiatives. Many teams and organizations tend to operate like the team below:
- The person in front symbolizes leadership or management—anyone focused forward. Leaders get insulated by their rope to the bumps and thumps of many realities of the journey. They work hard to pull the organization ahead. Their intentions are positive.
- The people in back represent frontline employees and supervisors who can’t see far ahead and feel every bump in the road. They push but have to trust the leadership to steer. They have no “big picture” of where they (or the wagon) are headed, but do what is expected of them. They lack perception and vision. Intentions are positive.
- The body of the wagon is well made and sturdy, much like the basic core of any organization. It will do the job for which it was designed. Its nature makes changing direction quite difficult, but it works like it always has. We find that identifying and celebrating early adopters of the behaviors a company wants to instill can create positive infectivity.
- The Square Wheels represent the traditions, the way things have always been done, systems and techniques to respond to quality and service initiatives, or other relevant issues to the group. They may also represent interdepartmental conflicts. They increase costs of doing business and are inefficient and ineffective.
- The Round Wheels represent new ideas for innovation or improvement, coming from within the organization. Top management makes public the factors on which it will judge the team’s performance and how that evaluation fits into the company’s regular appraisal process.
- Customers generally ride on the wagon, being aware of the thumps and bumps of the journey forward but often unaware of the specific causes. Often, they encounter policies and procedures that are not customer oriented. Occasionally, they may feel like they are under the wheels!
Companies make the mistake of worrying mostly about the time it will take to implement change programs. They assume that the longer an proposal carries on, the more likely it is to fail.
Nothing Happens Without a Readiness to Change
A great deal has been said about middle managers who want to block change. We find that most middle managers are prepared to support change efforts even if doing so involves additional work and uncertainty and puts their jobs at risk.
On the whole, the visions about the journey forward are difficult to communicate effectively to everyone, and changing direction is hard. Yet continued motivation is necessary to keep pushing forward, and people must trust the leadership to lead the way. After approaching for a long time, however, people in the back may lose interest in where the organization is going or needs to go and become resigned to the Square Wheels. The organization crashes along, and most know it. In the process, we exposed a provocative lens and language to help change managers better understand their mission and methods. When I share this illustration with people, I hear such comments as:
- Communication between pullers and pushers is difficult. The process of exploring one’s communication styles, behavior and fundamental aims in life is a overwhelming task for most people.
- Shared vision is crucial. It is very interesting to observe that the essential role of a leader when progressing a shared vision is one of unselfish motives.
- It’s difficult to change direction. It suggests that the configuration established by cooperation is an effective way to accomplish our goals on a fast-paced world.
- Teamwork, trust, motivation, and collaboration are needed. Leaders can help people throughout the organization expound systemic comprehensions.
- Measuring progress is part of individual and team motivation. Progress that is observable tends to be explicit, teachable, autonomous, attachable, it also easy for challengers to reproduce.
- Issues of cost, productivity and quality are always present. A shared vision is fundamental on the productivity of any business where a leader has so many individuals and groups to attend to in a transparent and selfless manner.
- Progress is generally not about people—it is about systems and processes. Every organization creates and uses this information. The dispute is that few seem to essentially learn how to manage it, apply it, mature through it and use it successfully.
- Poor systems are like bumps that demotivate those trying to move ahead. On the other hand, when regarded in systems terms immediate improvements often comprise very substantial long-term costs.
- Ideas for improvement always exist already within the wagon. Those actions comforted employees that the organization would challenge the layoffs in a professional and humanitarian fashion.
Another reality is that the round wheels of today become the square wheels of tomorrow. Improvement is about continuous improvement, since change is a continuous event—you can’t complete a change initiative.
Probability of Leadership Change Management
There are four things that successful change leaders do well. The probability of change is related to four factors:
- The current level of discomfort with the way things are now. This is all about people feeling that things could be different. If they are not satisfied, they are likely to change. If something gets acknowledged as a Square Wheel and not working properly, a Round Wheel possibility likely exists for making an improvement.
- The attractiveness of the vision of the future. This one is all about motivation and teamwork. The view from the front of the wagon is different than the view from the back; and apprehending goals and expectations will reduce resistance to change. If the vision is engaging, it is attracting. Making the vision more attractive is straightforward.
- The person’s or group’s previous success with change. If the last time people tried to change they felt successful and rewarded, they will repeat the behavior. What gets rewarded gets repeated. But if the most recent attempt was met with criticism and negative comments, they likely won’t be interested in trying again. The same thing happens with team-based initiatives.
- The peer or workgroup support for the change. Obviously, if others are supportive, it puts positive peer pressure on an individual to change. But, sadly, most organizations have a tendency to add “mud” to the journey of most teams, bogging things down and making progress even harder for teams struggling forward. The mud can be the bureaucracy, politics, measurement systems that don’t support the goals and expectations—any form of glop that hampers people and clogs systems.
Successful change leaders embrace these tensions even though they make the challenge more complex. This meant nothing short of building new organizational capabilities based upon collaboration and client-first thinking, which not only meant developing new systems and processes but building a collective mindset that would make aspiring to being a one-company culture a reality.
Enlisting People in Change Initiatives
So what do we do? Well, let me suggest a couple of simple scenarios.
The first idea is this: Get out of the ditch and get up on the road. This is simpler than you might think. I ask people what things get in the way of making progress, let them brainstorm, perhaps even vent a little, then I ask if there are any incomparable Mud Managers out there. This reframe causes people to consider what others in the workplace are already doing differently and what underlies high performance in an environment where there are two feet of ditch for every foot of road. Invariably, people can generate ideas that are already proven to work. It is not about inventing new ways of doing things as much as it is about identifying ideas and then doing something differently. This increased managers’ understanding of business conditions and boosted employee engagement—and sales rose.
Where you can go from here is a bit surprising: Roll your wagon backwards! Because you have begun to generate a little partner support, you increase the likelihood of change. Now, you should work with the group to generate a list of possible Square Wheels—things that work but that do not work smoothly.
After playing with these themes and asking about “mud,” generate a list of possible issues to address: things that do not work smoothly. Set the stage for some possibility thinking. Get a long list, but resist the tendency to straightaway start fixing things. A week or so later, select one of the Square Wheels and generate some possible Round Wheels to try.
The Hard Aspects of Change Management
Let your team do the thinking—you focus on maintaining the focus. Paint a picture of what will be different if a few Round Wheels are implemented. You are creating some uneasiness with the way things are now as people discuss the things that can be improved and suggest ideas that they could try to make things work more smoothly. Corporations will always require a hierarchy, but peer role models can successfully lead projects within a change initiative.
You create a higher likelihood of change because people become less comfortable with the way things are and create an alternative shared vision of the future. They build on some feelings of previous success and they work together, as a group, to make things better. Celebrating the reversal of a relapse can help desired behaviors regain momentum.
Participative leadership can reduce opposition to change. Managing change is tough, but part of the problem is that there is little agreement on what factors most influence transformation initiatives. Visionary leadership is often vital for change projects, but not always.