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Managing Change and Overcoming Resistance

Schermerhorn et al (2005) suggest eight reasons that people may have for resisting change:

  1. fear of the unknown
  2. lack of good information
  3. fear of loss of security
  4. no reasons to change
  5. fear of loss of power
  6. lack of resources
  7. bad timing
  8. habit

and propose that to overcome resistance certain criteria need to be met:

  • Benefit: whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as ‘a better way’;
  • Compatability: the change should be as compatible as possible with existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change;
  • Complexity: the change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use;
  • Triability: the change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.

It strikes me that reasons 1-6 may be founded on the belief of the resisting individual/group that the change is being imposed on them. It is also quite common to encounter challenge/blocking, or passivity/neutrality because of a view that “we don’t get paid (enough) to do that, it’s not our job, we’re not the leaders”. I’m not altogether convinced that some of the criteria are always appropriate; after all if the established habit, values and experience of an organisation are the reason it’s in a pickle then you’d be ill advised to pander to them.

John Kotter’s eight phases of change model is shown below:

Kotter's Model

It’s clear that the ‘creating the climate for change’ and the ‘engaging and enabling the whole organisation’ phases should be powerful agents in overcoming the view that change is being imposed. The article I’ve just read actually points out that inexperienced leaders often jump to the last few steps without having prepared the ground and consequently face resistance. It also seems reasonable to assume that many of the barriers identified by Schermerhorn would also be addressed by the Kotter Model.

But what about the “we don’t get paid (enough) to do that, it’s not our job, we’re not the leaders” type line? I’m not sure that just looking at the model or even reading the text version in my materials really helps me to sort that out. It all sounds a bit sterile and pseudo-management gobbledygook. When I see the phrase “communicate for buy-in” or even the slightly less hackneyed “share the vision” I start to feel a touch uncomfortable. But…. I think that when you listen to him talk about the process it begins to make a lot more sense. Have a look at the clip of video:

Win the hearts and minds. Effective change is founded on an effort based on a 60/40 split between the two. Ok, so how does that help me? To me this means it’s not just about getting people to ‘like the plan’ or even for them to ‘buy-in’ to the task or change being proposed. For really effective teams there has to be something more. Let me turn briefly to my past experience.