The only constant in life is change.
It may sound paradoxical, but even though everyone would agree to this statement, there is also the perception that human beings – in general – are reluctant to change.
The truth is that change can be seen as a threat or as an opportunity, depending on the combination of three key variables influencing our perception of a new situation.
Variable # 1. Whose idea was that?
The first variable affecting our willingness to change has to do with whether the need for change comes as a result of someone else´s wishes or is based upon our own beliefs.
What I want to buy? Where I want to live? These are all decisions based on our own wishes and beliefs. Thus, these changes are perceived as an opportunity for improvement or growth.
On the other hand, change can be easily seen as a threat, when it is imposed and we do not share the views and beliefs of those driving the change.
Variable # 2. What is going to change and why?
The second variable affecting our perception of change is the amount of information available to us regarding what is going to change and why.
When change is voluntary, we count on all information that we considered necessary to make the ultimate decision; our brain has processed all possible scenarios, allowing us to decide whether we like it or not. We have certainty about it.
Uncertainty and lack of information during periods of change will cause the opposite result, a feeling of riskiness and danger that will trigger off all sort of negative feelings.
Variable # 3. What is in it for me?
Based on the fact that acceptance of change is driven by our willingness to obtain a better result, a change will be seen as an opportunity if we find something positive in it for us.
If not, we may either see no need for change or even become reluctant to it, depending on whether our current position remains unchanged or gets impacted negatively by the change, respectively.
The truth is that people is not reluctant to change per se.
Are organizations more reluctant to change than individuals?
In both cases, we observe that there are multiple variables influencing the output of the change equation.
In the business world, on top of the three variables mentioned in the lines above, there are two additional elements affecting how easily changes will be accepted and implemented by the organization, complexity and scale.
Variable # 4. Complexity
Complexity is driven by the level of resistance (or advocacy), multiplied by the number of people affected by change.
Variable # 5. Scale
Scale is defined by the multiple dimensions of the business: Functions, geographies, Customers, employees and key business partners.
It is the CEO´s job to assess the complexity and scale of change, and make sure both variables are minimized, before we kick off the change management plan.
These are the variables driving the change reluctance equation:
- Who wants this change?
- What is going to change and why? Is it well understood by everyone involved?
- What is in it for the business and all other parties involved?
- How complex is this change?
- What is the scale of the change?
The CEO is The Key Change Agent.
Culture is a fundamental piece in this puzzle and the best tool any CEO can use to minimize the impact of change. Culture is intrinsically connected to people´s values and beliefs.
Culture is the most powerful weapon any CEO can use to indoctrinate change.
A Culture of Cultivation, Collaboration and Innovation tends to be more effective when it comes to tackling large change management plans, affecting multiple business units, geographies and teams.
In organizations where innovative ideas are rewarded and challenging the status quo is encouraged and celebrated by the Executive team, change tends to be embraced much faster than in companies employing other types of Culture.
How can the CEO reduce reluctance to change?
# 1. Encourage thought sharing and innovation:
Share your plan with all the relevant people in the organization, not just the executive team. Make sure the message is cascaded down and the feedback provided by key employees is properly captured and taken on board.
Reward innovative thinking and encourage people to continuously seek ways to improve current business performance.
Thought sharing will not only help you minimize resistance, it will also allow you to capture THE VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER & THE EMPLOYEE – Both instrumental and too often missing in strategy and change planning sessions.
# 2. Promote open communication, top to bottom and vice versa:
In order to engage people along the way and gain their buy-in to your plan, you will also need to engineer, implement and manage a solid communication strategy.
It is critical that you explain clearly and openly, what is going to change and why. Also make sure your sponsorship is visible across the entire organization.
Reluctance to change in occasions has a lot to do with poor communication from the CEO and the Executive team. Everyone wants to know what is going on, don´t you think?
Uncertainty is the worst enemy of change and the first reason for employee disengagement, so make sure everyone knows your plan, its benefits and how committed you are to it.
# 3. Align Wins and Results:
Last but not least, what are the expected business results and the wins in it for your employees?
It is of extreme importance that you think not just about the Financial Results you want to achieve, but also how change will make your employee´s life easier or better, Personal Wins.
Alignment between business results and employee wins will help you minimize reluctance and increase employee engagement.
Disengaged employees can easily become saboteurs, costing companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in inefficiencies, waste of time and effort. Don´t underestimate the power of disengaged staff.
The CEO is the Key Change Agent who can convert the disengaged, into evangelizers!
The CEO´s most powerful weapons to overcome change reluctance issues are:
- Culture of Innovation and Collaboration.
- Two Way Communication plan.
- Compelling Win-Result program.
I hope you enjoyed the reading. If so, please don´t forget to click on “Like” and share it with anyone who may find it useful.
You may also like to read my recent posts on Linkedin.
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Jordi is the Managing Principal Consultant at Key SChain Solutions, a management consulting firm specializing in Organizational Strategy, Portfolio Management and Operational Excellence.