Ringing in the Changes!

Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. (John F Kennedy)

The New Year is often a time of change. During our holidays, we make resolutions to change things at work that we have been putting off or tolerating. Despite best endeavours though, it appears few change initiatives deliver fully against initial expectations because of insufficient focus on leadership, resources or process.

From a leadership perspective, failure occurs as a consequence of ignoring the human impacts of change. No matter how well the change is planned to achieve a logical outcome, it will be how the people concerned feel about the change that will derail it. I am sure Cadbury recently had a very good business case to change their recipe and I am sure the change’s implementation was well managed, but…probably enough said!

It is said that change is the only constant. It is also said that people hate change. Given these two statements it is hard to believe how human kind manages to cope or that any change gets implemented! The reality is that most of us only hate the change that we had no hand in creating or change that we cannot control. 

As leaders, we must consider who the stakeholders may be in future change. We must provide as much opportunity as we are able for them to be involved in, contribute to the change and understand how the change will impact them. The nature of that involvement will depend on many factors such as their knowledge, skills, experience, maturity and attitude. 

Often leaders complain that they don’t have time or cannot bear the conflict that may ensue from discussing the change up front, but the same amount of time (if not more) will have to spent at some stage in dealing with the consequences of failing to communicate and collaborate and it is much better do so before resistance has set in. 

If not addressed at the start of change, conflict will still exist but may become subterranean and even harder to spot, let alone deal with! Worse still, it is often the discussion bought about by collaborative conflict resolution that enhances the final change initiative for the better. The sooner leaders accept that staff at every level have valuable insights which can enhance the outcomes of change; the better!

As far as change implementation is concerned, people respond in different ways. Some will be the creators of change; excited by it (sometimes getting them to slow down is an issue), some may be less dynamic but happy to capitalise on the opportunities presented, others may feel change is to be endured in the hope it goes away and for the unfortunate few, change makes them a victim where they are barely able to cope. 

Whilst all these responses are normal and may change over time, the leader must closely manage those that are struggling to transition with the change. Leaders should give these individual’s adequate information, training and support, as well as a sympathetic ear and opportunities to talk it out. However, after a reasonable period, leaders also need to accept (for the good of the rest of the team) that not everyone can adjust to a new reality and it may be time for the individual to move on.

Just ignoring the human responses and the conflicts that result from change could result in long term negative consequences for the business, the team and the individuals themselves. In short, a collaborative process with transparent and honest communication will always net a better outcome and protect the on-going relationship than a competitive, non-consultative process which just forces the change through with no buy in! 

Happy New Year (and happy changing)!