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Something new?! Oh no!

The title of this blog should say a lot.  Most of us know that the only sure thing in most businesses today is change.  But what does that really mean to company, and the people who are part of it?  What does it mean to the customers and clients that are being served?  There is now and probably always will be a certain amount of change resistance in any situation.  So how do we manage this process, and what do we need to know?  One of the best courses that I took on the subject is a two-week program through Ithaca College which is taught by Dr. Kalman called, aptly enough, Change Management (this class is offered as a part of the Performance Improvement Management Certificate in conjunction with the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI)).  I strongly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about this amazing process and the science behind it!  I will attempt to share my knowledge of the subject while adding in my own thoughts and observations.

First we really need to define a few things.  There are a two levels of change: transformational (radical) and incremental.  The difference is that with transformational, you are changing the culture and the very fabric of an organization.  Incremental change can still be a huge change, but it is more along the lines of strategic change to say processes, products, services, equipment, technology, etc.  The next thing to keep in mind is that there is proactive versus reactive change.  These are pretty much self-explanatory; the former is based on innovation and planning and the latter is based on response to a challenge or threat, which could be internal or external (for those followers of the SWOT or HPT systems, this should be very familiar).  The last component is directly related to whether or not the change is proactive or reactive.  Change will either be planned or unplanned.  As I am sure you can deduce planned change is generally on the proactive side, while unplanned change is generally reactive.  Knowing these areas for change can truly help in defining what direction to go in and help in determining your basic project components (time, cost, and quality) and which one is most important (as much as we would like them all to be the most important, only one can be, but that is for a whole different blog post entirely!).

Once you have determined what type of change you are dealing with you need to be able to communicate what that change is, whom it will affect, and how.  This is the kind of information that senior leaders will certainly not only want to know, but need to know to support and drive the change.  If it isn’t supported at every level, change will fail.  We will talk about that in more detail shortly.  First, how do we determine who the change will affect and how?  This is where it helps to have people with knowledge of performance consulting/analysis knowledge.  There needs to be a process of communicating with people in every level of an organization to gather data and determine what the feelings and thoughts on the change are, which will help to implement the change with as little resistance as possible.  This means survey’s, focus group’s, and interview’s at different levels and over the entire population that will be affected.  This will also help to identify change agents, or members of the population that can help to drive the change from within the different units and teams which can really help the success of the change initiative in the long run.  During this process you should be looking for ideas and suggestions for how to implement the change easier, reasons for or against the change (sometimes you may find that it is a completely unnecessary change during this process), as well as any potential roadblocks that may keep the change from happening.  All of this information will make it much easier to be successful in implementing the change, especially if the people who are being talked with feel as though they were really a part of the change, not merely a victim of it.

So what can stop change from happening?  The first article that I think explains resistance to change very well is  “Choosing Strategies for Change” (Kotter & Schlesinger, Harvard Business Review 2008).  In it they identify four reasons that people resist change: Parochial Self-Interest, Misunderstanding and Lack of Trust, Different Assessments, and Low Tolerance for Change.  I have personally experienced some of these (as I’m sure many other have) and know them to be very accurate.  I also found the article “Change Through Persuasion” (Garvin & Roberto, Harvard Business Review 2005) to be very clear in their offering of the “6 Ways to Stop Change in It’s Track’s”: A Culture of “No”, The Dog & Pony Show Must Go On (the presentation is more important than the change), The Grass is Always Greener (change attention to new products, services, business, etc.), After the Meeting Ends Debate Begins (conversation doesn’t happen in the meeting, but will afterwards and often covertly), Ready Aim Aim (inability to choose one definitive course), and This Too Shall Pass (wait it out, we’ve been here before).  By identifying these 10 different roadblocks and addressing them when they are noticed, you can help to ensure that your change initiative is successful and doesn’t get caught up on the path to completion and success.  You must always be aware that these types of things can happen, and plan for what the next steps are if, and when, they raise their ugly head.

There are many great models out there to follow for Change Management, and certainly too many to list here.  I strongly recommend that you study them, and make sure to find the right one for the right change.  No one model will work for every change, but the good news is that there are plenty of options, so work with them and put together your own tool belt, and before you know it your colleagues will be saying “Where does he get those wonderful toys!”  I hope that you enjoyed this week’s article, and we’ll see you again next week.  Please feel free to contact us and suggest a topic that you want to know more about in the Performance Improvement and Organizational Development areas, and we will do our best to get them posted!  And as always, you can contact us at Provative Business Consulting, LLC (www.provative.com) for assistance with your Change Management, Performance Consulting, and Organizational Development needs.

  1. June 9, 2010 at 8:24 AM


    Thanks your very informative post. Thanks too for the Garvin article. And anything by Kotter, in my opinion, is golden. You write about the importance of making “people who are being talked with feel as though they were really a part of the change, not merely a victim of it.” I think you’re spot on and I’d argue it’s actually a major factor in successful change. If the people are doing the work of inventing/implementing change, resistance is lowered significantly. Sooo…perhaps the role of leadership is to lead the people through leadership’s own change identification process, suggest broad strokes or goals and give over controlling the change to the people?

    • June 9, 2010 at 8:40 AM

      Dr. Loyd, you nailed it! Leadership is not always about having the answers, but knowing where and how to get them. In many cases if a leader were to suggest a change in the organization, whether it be radical or incremental, and then solicit feedback from the other stakeholders (members of a congregation, customers, employees, etc.) of the organization then there would be a tremendous amount less resistance. The scariest part during this process for any leader is that you have to open up and become quite transparent (and somewhat vulnerable). If there is data to support the suggestion, then it needs to be shared to help everyone understand the why, which is not always easy to do. The other piece of this is that the leader must accept that they very well may be humbled by what they find out. There is always the possibility that, through conducting the change management process correctly, it is discovered that the proposed change is completely invalid and/or there may be a better/different change that needs to or could happen to achieve whatever the desired state is.

      As I see you write so often (perhaps in not quite so many words) the leader has a great responsibility, and needs to understand that but also needs to understand that that responsibility is to the people that they serve. A great book on servant leadership is “The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership” by James C. Hunter.

  2. June 9, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    You write: “The scariest part during this process for any leader is that you have to open up and become quite transparent (and somewhat vulnerable)….The other piece of this is that the leader must accept that they very well may be humbled by what they find out.” This is a terrific insight. Vulnerability and humility are essential, vital characteristics of a good leader. Thanks!

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