Before making changes that will affect others, it's important to carefully think through what the specific changes include, whom the changes will impact, how it will impact them and how they might react.
A newly promoted manager recently said: “We had to reduce expenses, so I made some changes in the organizational structure of my department by consolidating a few positions. I put several projects on hold, canceled one project and let a few people go. I didn’t think it would be any big deal, but some employees in the department are acting like I’m as ruthless as Attila the Hun. Several are avoiding me, and a few have become downright hostile in their attitude toward me. Why are they acting this way?”
Leadership is about leading, but it’s also about implementing change. While many people like to joke that the only constant in business is change, change has an interesting way of affecting people that can often result in resistance. This resistance can range from fairly subtle, such as avoidance or passive-aggressive behavior, to outright defiance, hostility and sabotage.
The best way to avoid resistance to change? Seek to uncover potential resistance prior to implementing change. According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, “The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them.”
Before making changes that will affect others, it’s important to carefully think through what the specific changes include, whom the changes will impact, how it will impact them and how they might react. Knowing this information makes it easier to create a plan of action for a smooth implementation of the changes.
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Let’s look at the new manager’s situation using this process.
What the specific changes include. In this situation, the changes involved restructuring the department, consolidating numerous positions, laying off several employees, canceling one project and putting several other projects on hold — not small changes.
Whom the changes impact. All of the department employees were affected, but the changes might also have impacted other stakeholder groups, such as if any of the projects canceled or put on hold included cross-functional team members from other departments.
How the changes impact them. The biggest impact was to those employees being laid off, as there could be both emotional and financial impact. Employees whose jobs will change might also have emotional and financial implications, although to a lesser extent. Employees’ job tasks will change for those whose projects were put on hold or canceled. Finally, there is an emotional impact to everyone in the department, whether or not they are directly affected by the changes.
After analyzing this information, the next step is to consider the five main reasons why people resist change: Fear of the unknown or being surprised; mistrust; loss of job security/control; bad timing; and differences in an individual’s tolerance for change.
Being aware of the reasons people resist change will help you implement it with fewer issues. Eliminate fear of the unknown by letting affected groups know there will be changes coming. Avoid mistrust and the feeling of loss of control by getting others involved before the changes occur and asking them to offer input and feedback. Prevent bad timing by providing a clear vision and reasons for the changes, along with a timetable or schedule of what to expect and when to expect it.
Implementing change is never painless, but it can be a lot less stressful for everyone when it is done with empathy and compassion after thorough analysis, planning and strategizing.