Throughout my career, I have heard many leaders claim that people resist change. I believe this to be a dangerous myth that, if adopted, can mislead organizations preparing to initiate change. This mindset causes organizations to focus on people as a problem in the way of a successful change initiative. It will also cause leaders to interpret any questioning as resistance which must be dealt with. I would like to offer that people do not naturally resist change, but instead resist poorly planned and executed change. This is important as it shifts the goal of change readiness from overcoming resistance, to garnering an understanding and support for the change. What follows is the result of my research into change readiness.
It is not uncommon for organizations to spend large sums of money on change projects that offer little to no improvement. It stands to reason then, that preparing for change and ensuring a change strategy exists is critical. There are two parts to Change Readiness: Individual Readiness and Organizational Readiness. I will focus on Individual Change Readiness.
My review of recent literature supported the focus on the following four factors for individual change readiness:
1. Communicating why the change is needed
2. Individual efficacy
3. Ensuring leadership support of the change
4. The individual benefit to change (What’s In It For Me?)
Communicating why the change is needed
For individual change readiness to begin, it requires leaders to offer evidence that the current methods are no longer viable to support the ongoing success of the organization. The role of the leader of the change is to clearly demonstrate, not only the requirement for change but also, that the proposed change method is the appropriate one. This is done by demonstrating how the change will close the gap between the current and the desired end-state. Change leaders must also ensure that the appropriateness of the end-state is supported by the individuals at the center of the change. So, in summary, it is key to demonstrate that the current situation is no longer viable, the end-state is preferred, and the path proposed to get to the new end-state is appropriate.
Efficacy is a key element in individual change readiness, and it is explained as an individual’s belief that they have the ability to successfully complete the activities involved in the change. Low skills, or lack of confidence in an individual’s own ability to perform in the end-state, could cause them to participate in behavior ranging from resistance to sabotage, hoping for a return to the previous and comfortable mode of operation. In this case, individual capabilities must be enhanced by providing a learning culture on the team, which will increase the individual’s likelihood of readiness through increased personal efficacy. Leaders must seek out and address efficacy issues. One way to do this is to survey employees regarding their concerns with the proposed change.
Ensuring leadership support of the change
My research uncovered the importance that visible support from formal and informal leaders in the organization exists. Although support from immediate supervisors is important, it is also important to display the support from top levels of leadership, as this group is typically the drivers of change initiatives. If the frontline team does not believe that the change is fully supported through to the top, they may hesitate to engage in the change, believing that it will not be fully executed.
The individual benefit to change (What’s In It For Me?)
An individual’s focus on their personal gain when dealing with change exists even if the gains to the organization are clearly understood. Individuals preparing for change will not only want to understand the impacts of implementing the change, but will also judge the negative or positive implications of those impacts on the organization’s individuals. Therefore, it is critical to understand and communicate how the change will personally benefit team members, or at the very least, will not negatively impact them.
I believe that leaders must always remember to involve the individuals at the centre of the change initiative, early in the process. Frontline employees offer an important insight into the day to day reality of the job duties which can inform the change initiative and better position it for success. Change should be something that is happening with your employees, instead of happening to them.
David has been an organizational leader for over 30 years in various industries, leading large teams through organizational transformation, and has completed a Master’s degree in Leadership. For more information on Team Building, Change Leadership, and Culture Development, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how Fox & Owl Consulting can help strengthen your organization.