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Implementing Change

November 17, 2009

The changes that impact a business range from a simple moving of the coffee pot to the relocating an entire business. Change comes with the adoption of new technologies, different markets, new bosses, altered schedules and modified standards. Regardless of the magnitude, change will always be threatening to some.

As any manager who has been responsible for implementing change well knows, change does not take place without considerable effort. Effort requires that a force be exerted, and force in human affairs, just as in physics, creates counter force.

Sir Isaac Newton could just as easily been taking about change in organizations as physics when he stated, “every action has an equal but opposite reaction”. A manager who intends on successfully implementing change within an organization must recognize that the force of change will always be met with a counter force.

Change is successfully implemented when the force of change exceeds the force of the resistance. Implementation is accomplished by either increasing the force of change or reducing the resistance to change. By investing the time to win acceptance of the proposed changes, anticipating and reducing the resistance, change can be accomplished with considerably less effort.

You’ve been troubled by a problem for sometime. The situation has continued without improvement. You’ve lived with the problem. You’ve thought through the solution. You’re excited about the future and anxious to implement the change. You gather the others involved and announce with great enthusiasm that “we’re going to make some changes around here.”

Much to your dismay, your enthusiastic announcement is greeted with a less than enthusiastic response. Oh, the heads are nodding OK, but a great silence has overtaken the gathering.

Soon the questions and comments begin. Has it been done elsewhere? It sounds like a good idea, but is it right for our business? We tried that before and it didn’t work. OK, if that’s what you want.

Resistance to change. It is as certain as change itself. If you hope to be an agent for change, you must recognize that change is threatening.

As the initiator of change, you are less threatened than others. You most likely have more responsibility and thus have a greater degree of control over your future. You have wrestled with the problem and have accepted the reality that something has to change. You have thought through the solution and you are optimistic as to the result.

The recipients of your announcement most likely aren’t so well prepared. They might be aware that things aren’t going as well as they should, but nothing is perfect and “we seem to be getting by”. The “devil we know” is often more acceptable than the “devil we don’t.”

In general, the more people appreciate the need for change and the more they understand about what is happening, the less the resistance will be. The perceived threat is inversely proportional to the level of participation. Resistance will be least when employees have the most to say about implementing change and it will be the greatest when they have the least to say.

No single group of employees has a monopoly on resistance to change. Top executives as well as factory workers share a fear of an uncertain future. Many organizations suffer from the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. NIH is often little more than a barrier to change.

There are a number of economic reasons why people fear change. The introduction of new technology often creates questions concerning unemployment, reduced work hours, or alteration in incentive pay formulas. “Rate busting” in a production environment is a form of group resistance that results from the threat of change.

Creating a positive environment for change begins by insuring that everyone involved understands the need for the change. Recognizing the need for change was your first step towards becoming enthusiastic about the change and it will be the key to developing acceptance from others. State the objectives clearly.

Encourage group participation in the change whenever possible. When everyone involved is given a chance to participate in the planning, the change has a greater chance of acceptance and success. Another reason to encourage participation is that some of the people will have information to contribute. Leave as many of the details up to the individuals that will be most directly involved.

Make clear the benefits that you are anticipating from the change. If the benefits are real, you should consider sharing the rewards with those that have helped implement the change.

The one certainty about the future is that it will differ from the past. To be successful, your business will need a consistent management approach to adapting to change.

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