Monday, February 11, 2013

Ten Reasons People Resist Change

By Virgil Carter

Organizational leadership often involves change—change for the organization and change for the people in that organization.  So what’s a successful leader to do when faced with overt and/or passive resistance?  A recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Rosabeth Moss Kanter provides useful insights.
She writes, “The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them. Here are the ten I've found to be the most common”:
·         Loss of control. Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they've lost control over their territory.  Smart leaders leave room for those affected by change to make choices. They invite others into the planning, giving them ownership.

·         Excess uncertainty. If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.  Leaders should create certainty of process, with clear, simple steps and timetables.

·         Surprise, surprise! Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.  Leaders should avoid the temptation to craft changes in secret and then announce them all at once. It's better to plant seeds — that is, to sprinkle hints of what might be coming and seek input.

·         Everything seems different. Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? Leaders should try to minimize the number of unrelated differences introduced by a central change. Wherever possible keep things familiar.

·         Loss of face. By definition, change is a departure from the past. Those people associated with the last version — the one that didn't work or the one that’s being superseded— are likely to be defensive about it.  Leaders can help people maintain dignity by celebrating those elements of the past that are worth honoring, and making it clear that the world has changed. That makes it easier to let go and move on.

·         Concerns about competence. Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.  Leaders should over-invest in structural reassurance, providing abundant information, education, training, mentors, and support systems.

·         More work. Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.  Leaders should acknowledge the hard work of change by allowing some people to focus exclusively on it, or adding extra perks for participants (meals? valet parking? massages?).

·         Ripple effects. Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.  Leaders should enlarge the circle of stakeholders. They must consider all affected parties, however distant, and work with them to minimize disruption.

·         Past resentments. The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us.  Leaders should consider gestures to heal the past before sailing into the future.

·         Sometimes the threat is real. Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.  The best thing leaders can do when the changes they seek pose significant threat is to be honest, transparent, fast, and fair.

Although leaders can't always make people feel comfortable with change, they can minimize discomfort. Diagnosing the sources of resistance is the first step toward good solutions. And feedback from resistors can even be helpful in improving the process of gaining acceptance for change.

For the full article, go to:

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