It’s that time of year again. Resolutions. Out with the old. In with the new. Stopping bad habits. Starting good ones. Bottom line: it’s time for change. But that simple little word conjures up lots of emotions and reactions among people.
Recently, I came across a little book with a clever title – “Change is Good. You Go First.” That phrase reflects the sentiment that many people have about organizational change. They realize they can’t survive without it. They know that everyone has to do their part. But they dig in their heels when it comes to taking the first step, and they have a hard time staying the course – at least that’s the conventional wisdom.
People Hate Change — Or Do They?
Here’s an important question, though. Is resistance to change really inherent in human nature – or is something else going on? If you look around, you can see people changing all the time. Clothes. Foods. Channels. You name it. Like the old adage goes, variety is the spice of life, right? So how does that cherished maxim jive with the contention that people resist change?
Truth is, people don’t resist change as much as they resist being forced to change without their involvement. People actually relish change if they’ve got some control over it, and they think it’s going to be good for them. Human beings are imprinted at birth with an innate desire to make things better. We want today to be better than yesterday, and we want tomorrow to be better than today. Everyone knows that can’t happen without change.
People Embrace Change — When They Have Some Control
So that’s where smart leaders will go when they want to foster employee engagement and get people on board with a change management plan:
- They start by giving employees a compelling vision, a riveting story of where they want to be “tomorrow.” And they explain why it’s important to embark on that journey in a way that speaks to the well-being of employees, not just the company.
- They continue to build on the allure of that vision in every communication they have with employees, and they provide the support employees need to reach it.
- They give continuous encouragement and express absolute confidence in the ability of employees to do the job.
- They make the change process manageable by not giving people too much to handle all at once, and by giving them clear, simple steps they can take successfully.
- They let employees see the performance numbers, and they allow people to take the initiative to make course corrections along the way.
- Finally, they let employees have a say in how to design and manage the change they’re expected to embrace.
In the end, change is NOT necessarily good. But it IS absolutely necessary. Whether it’s good or not depends on what the change is – and, more importantly, how it’s handled. Change is also unavoidable. As the introduction says in the little book that inspired the title of this essay, the only choice we have is this: “… either we manage change, or it will manage us.”
People Will Change — If They’re Led the Right Way
It’s true that change can be difficult. Even though it isn’t as onerous to employees as some people think, human beings often long for the familiar, and old habits die hard. But if you label the source of those behaviors as “resistance to change,” you’re probably going to be treating the wrong cause of the challenge – and take the wrong approach to overcoming it.
So along with your other resolutions this year, add one more. If you see your change efforts stalling out, don’t jump to the conclusion that employees are “resisting change” – and don’t assume that it’s just human nature. It could be that the so-called “resistance” is actually due to the methods you’re using – or the way you’re telling the story.
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