Change is all around us. Sometimes it is so subtle we hardly notice it. Other times it is so dramatic and sudden that we develop negative and resistant reactions. By nature, we tend to resent and resist change strongly.
The process of change, at any level, can be distressing and create negative emotions or reactions. If change is not handled correctly, it has the potential to cause failures, loss of production, and low morale. In the most dramatic cases, we could lose our most valued employees.
So who is responsible for ensuring that the change process is addressed so that individuals accept change and reduce its impact to manageable levels?
Employees affected by change have the responsibility to continue to do their best work as they experience the different stages of change including denial, anger, dejection, acceptance, and learning and development. An individual’s degree of resistance to change is determined by how they perceive the change, good or bad, and how severe they expect the impact on them to be.
The responsibility to manage change is with management and leadership. Change has to be understood and managed so that everyone impacted can cope effectively.
To get the employees to acceptance and learning requires skills on managing change. The key to implementing the change successfully is to communicate what is changing and why. It’s important that people understand what is changing, when the change will take place, and why the change is being made. Equally important is to communicate what is not changing.
In order to develop a strategy to manage the change, the change leader must make an effort to understand the reluctance that comes with the change and the need to understand the fears associated with it.
John P. Kotter, an expert on business leadership and author of Leading Change, created the Eight-Stage Change Process of Creating Major Change:
- Establishing a Sense of Urgency – Inspire people to move, make objectives real and relevant.
- Creating the Guiding Coalition – Get the right people in place with the right emotional commitment, and the right mix of skill levels.
- Developing a Vision and Strategy – Get the team to establish a simple vision and strategy, focus on emotional and creative aspects necessary to drive service and efficiency.
- Communicating the Change Vision – Involve as many people as possible, communicate the essentials, appeal to people’s needs. De-clutter communications.
- Empowering Broad-Based Action – Remove obstacles, enable constructive feedback and support from leaders.
- Generating Short-Term Wins – Aim for achievable wins and recognize those who made the wins possible.
- Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change – Foster and encourage determination and persistence, encourage ongoing progress. Highlight achievements and future milestones.
- Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture – Reinforce the value of successful change via recruitment, promotion, and new change leaders. Weave change into the culture.
The first four steps in the process help defrost the status quo. Steps five to seven introduce new practices. The last stage grounds the changes in the organizations’ culture and helps make them stick.
What’s important for change leaders is to manage the issue. Don’t try to rationalize things and waste time wishing people were more predictable. Instead, focus on maintaining clear channels of communication so they understand what is coming and what it means to them.