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I always find it interesting that the reasons for resistance to change are so well known (even people who aren't change management experts have a good intuitive understanding of the reasons for change resistance, based on their own life experience), and yet so often unaddressed in the workplace.  

So here's an infographic about the reasons for change resistance and some ideas for how to guide against resistance.  It's all about communication, leadership, employee engagement and, of course, taking the time to listen.

(infographic by Catherine Adenle at Catherine's Career Corner)

change management infographic

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Sure, it's a little late - well, later than everyone else's - but maybe now you'll have time to read this wrap-up of my top 10 most popular blog posts of 2013.

top 10 change management blog posts

Before we get started, just a quick word of thanks:  The past year has brought a whole lot of new visitors to the ADRA blog, and I wanted to thank both my new readers and my 'old faithfuls' for making 2013 such a great one. I have always loved thinking - and writing - about change management, but it's particularly gratifying (not to mention flattering) to know that thousands of people are interested in what you have to say about change every month.  Thank you - and I hope you enjoy my 2014 posts even more.

And now for the top 10 of 2013.

1.  Changeruption: When 'disruption' meets 'what the hell just happened?', it's time for change management

Like so many buzzwords, disruption started out with good intentions.  But when the skinny-jeans consultants forget to tell Marge's team in shipping/receiving about the 'disruption' they're about to orchestrate in the organization, the resulting changeruption starts looking more like Mount Pinatubo than the TED talk you were hoping for.

2.  Top 10 Myths of Change Leadership

We all have some preconceived ideas about what leading change will, or should, look like.  But many preconceived ideas aren't, in fact, correct.

3.  Adapting to your new iPhone is not the same as change management

These days, technology has made us all more adaptable - at least we think it does.  But learning how to use your fancy new gadget isn't the same as adapting to organizational change.  Here's why.

4.  Think the workplace isn't about making friends?  Think again.

Sure, you probably shouldn't be best friends with the employees you manage in the workplace.  On the other hand, you'll find that the most successful businesspeople are the ones who know how to build and maintain long-term relationships with the people they work with.  

5.  The Changing Role of Pharma Reps

New regulations mean that pharmaceutical reps are going to have to do less 'selling' and more 'relationship-building' with healthcare providers.  What does this mean for healthcare?

6.  Change Challenge:  Sales Force Reorganization

Changing the process, tools or structure of  sales teams can be particularly challenging, especially when some members are more successful than others.  Here's how we managed a change initiative in a real-world organization.

7.  Positive Psychology, Change and the Bottom Line III:  Motivation to Change

Part of our 5-part series on how theories from positive psychology can be applied to change management with dramatic bottom-line results, this piece discusses neural pathways and how they affect the motivation to change.

8.  If culture eats strategy for lunch, change is part of a healthy breakfast, Part II

The right change management strategy balances the rational (typically the business goals) with the emotional (typically the organizational culture).  If you can get them both working together, the organization will do a better job of changing.

9.  10 tips for choosing the right change management consultant

I first wrote a version of this back in 2011.  It was one of my most popular blog posts back then, and I've updated it every year since.  Remember, the right change management consultant can make or break your change initiative.

10.  Positive Psychology, Change and the Bottom Line V:  The ABCs of Positive Psychology - Affect

Another in this year's Positive Psychology series, this piece examines 'affect', the first in the ABCs of positive psychology which also includes 'behavior' and 'cognition'.  

 

I hope you have a chance to visit - or revisit - these posts.  In the meantime, thanks again for visiting the ADRA blog, and as always I look forward to hearing from you (and you can always find me on Twitter).

 

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I was about a month into the implementation of a major process-change initiative for a large global pharmaceutical company when I started encountering some real roadblocks.  We'd done a great job of creating a workable strategy, we'd stayed on-track with our initial implementation, and we'd had good responses to our internal communication efforts, but suddenly deadlines were getting missed, team leaders were showing up late (or not at all) to meetings, and the change team was hearing things like, "Look, I can't just abandon my everyday work to do this change stuff right now.  It's going to have to wait."

What was going on?

bad leadership

Finally I sat down with the VP who was championing the initiative and asked him point-blank what had changed:  "I thought this was a priority for you right now, but I feel like everyone's suddenly lost interest.  Is there something I should know?"

It turned out that two weeks earlier, his boss - the president of the US operations - had attended a global conference of all the company's senior executives.  While there, he'd heard about the other process-change initiatives going on in other countries - the German operation had this fantastic new CRM technology, the British operation had recently transformed their sales function and were outperforming the rest of the EU, etc. - and he came back full of doubt that our change initiative wasn't nearly as fantastic.

His real fear?  That the next time he met up with the global execs, his 'change story' wasn't going to sound as spectacular as theirs.

The result was that his attitude to the change project, hitherto enthusiastic, had become lukewarm.  This attitude was soon communicated to his senior leadership team, who then communicated it to their managers...it didn't take long before all the employees involved understood that what had previously been a high priority was headed for the back burner.

What the president didn't understand, of course, was that his sudden lack of enthusiasm was going to cause the very problem he feared:  When the people at the top start demonstrating their lack of interest in or passion for a change initiative, it's almost impossible for that initiative to truly succeed.

The solution:  With the VP's cooperation, I prepared a 30-minute 'Results Report', which I presented to the president and his senior team.  It reminded them how dramatic the results would be if we stayed on track, and I compared our post-change performance with that of the company's operations in other countries - demonstrating that our projected results would put the US operations in the top 3 worldwide.  The president was reassured that he'd still look good at the next global conference, and his enthusiasm returned.

Bottom line:  Change resistance that comes from the top can be the most damaging, because it has the most ability to derail a change effort.  The sooner you can get to the root of the problem, and address it head-on, the better you'll be able to keep a project on-track for the positive results you've worked for.

 

 

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Managing employees' sense of loss around a change

change management loss

When people react negatively to change, it's not necessarily the change itself that is causing the problem, but the sense of 'loss' that accompanies it.  Moving to a brand-new house with 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms may sound great, but it doesn't mean you aren't going to miss you 'first house' with its 2 small bedrooms and awkward kitchen - after all, you've had many happy memories there.

A similar sense of loss can happen within organizations which are undergoing change.  Even when the change will result in a net benefit for employees (a better work environment, a more stable sales funnel, etc.), a sense of loss can interfere with positive feelings about the results.  A sense of loss can become disruptive to individuals, and the business, if it's not handled adequately.  Understanding, acknowledging and addressing losses is essential to building a foundation for a smooth and productive transition.

 

Identify losses

It's important to identify who could experience loss during a change.  A good way to consider loss is to try to answer the question:  Who has to let go of something during, or as a result of, this change?  Will they have to let go of an established relationship with their manager, a process at which they've become expert, or even a coveted office space?  While some may experience these changes as opportunities, others may perceive them as 'losses'.

One way to help individuals identify their own losses is to have them answer the following questions for themselves:

  1. What is changing for me?  What will be different about the way that I work, the people I work with, and the people I work for?
  2. Based on the change, what will I have to let go?

Not every person will consider that every item on their list a loss, but the act of asking the questions will give individuals a chance to put words to the emotions they may be feeling.

 

Acknowledge losses

Once losses are identified, it's important to acknowledge them.  Some feel that addressing this kind of 'emotion' is inappropriate for a business setting; the truth is that pretending people aren't experiencing loss drives emotions underground where they can fester and cause greater problems later.

Reacting openly and empathetically to another's sense of loss gives them the freedom to move forward without getting stuck in resistance.  Start by expressing empathy, indicating understanding, and then move to a reframing of the situation without arguing or denying the loss:  "I hear that you're feeling distressed by losing a good relationship wtih your current manager, and I understand how you feel and that you're concerned it might impact your chances for promotion.  Let me show you how the criteria for your promotion and career advancement won't actually be negatively impacted by this change..."

 

Overreaction

Many times we think people are overreacting simply because they're reacting more strongly to something than we are.  And of course we're often uncomfortable with open displays of emotion, especially in the workplace.  So we label any open reaction as an 'overreaction'.  It's important to understand this before we label others.

Sometimes people 'overreact' to a situation because it reminds them of a change that happened to them in the past that wasn't handled well, or because it symbolizes something more to them than what has been announced ("They're moving my department to the other side of the office - this means they're phasing us out and I'll be unemployed within a year!  How will I feed my children?").  Understanding the true cause of the reaction will help you decide how best to help this person through the change.

 

A 'Good Goodbye'

One way to help people deal positively with their sense of loss is to encourage them to say goodbye.  This is particularly important when people are part of the loss:  The chance to say goodbye provides closure and a clear delineation to move to the next phase.

 

Looking ahead

Once people are productively dealing with their losses, they'll be ready to move forward through the change.  Encourage people to focus on what skills they possess which will lead them to continued success, and remind them of what they are not losing.  Having them imagine and discuss potential professional gains that may come about because of the change may be a good way to transition from 'loss' to 'opportunity'.

 

 

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A few years ago I was working with a large professional services firm which was implementing a new ATS (Applicant Tracking System) in their recruiting department.  the system was designed to take in and applications from the corporate website and various job boards, automatically respond to applicants, and then help the recruiting team keep track of candidates throughout the screening, interviewing and hiring process.  The idea was that the recruiting team would eventually have a deep database of candidates to call on, while applicants would be processed more efficiently and everyone would have a terrific experience.

change management beth banks cohn

Well, of course the system as delivered wasn't quite as perfect as it had seemed in the initial presentations by the company which built it.  It didn't perfectly match the current processes, it had some very complicated features, and it wasn't quite as easy to use as it had seemed in the original boardroom presentation.

The staff began to grumble, and adoption of the new system got a bit wobbly.  It was time for leadership.

The VP Recruiting, a well-respected and popular leader, undertood a successful 3-pronged approach:

1.  Insight and input:  He asked senior team members to provide, factual, non-emotional, functional-based feedback about the system.  He ignored vague critiques like "It sucks!" but carefully compiled specific items like "It's difficult to set up new job boards within the system".  Then he took this list to the developers and told them to fix them.

2.  Training:  In the original plan, the system had been positioned as so easy to use, it wouldn't require training.  When it was clear this had been wildly optimistic, he quickly identified a couple of team members who seemed most technically adept, sent them to the developers for some in-depth training, and made them subject-matter experts with a certain amount of authority.

3.  Brooking no dissent:  While working on productive solutions to the problems via #1 and #2, the VP Recruiting meanwhile put a stop to any negative conversations about the new system.  He didn't issue an edict or bark orders; he simply curtailed any complaints that walked into his office with a, "Yes, we're working on it - but in the meantime, just keep plugging, please," and when he encountered gripe sessions within the office, he subtly but firmly put an end to them by changing the subject or referring to the ongoing revisions and training.

Why did this 3-pronged approach work?

As a respected and popular leader, the VP Recruiting had the ability to influence his staff.  By demonstrating that he knew there were challenges (by asking for input about improvements) and was willing to spend resources to get the required training for staff, he maintained his credibility.  (When leaders pretend there isn't a problem when everyone knows there is, they risk look oblivious or clueless - both of which undermine their authority.)

Most importantly, however, he made it clear that regardless of the limitations of the system, the expected behavior for employees was to do the best they could and not waste time complaining.  He was changing the behavior even if attitudes weren't quite there yet.

The result?  The behavior change led to an attitude change.  With the negative grumbling curtailed and the knowledge that there were some solutions in the pipeline, employees settled down to the new system and got on with their work.

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What is motivation, and what happens to it during a business transformation?

MOTIVE noun \ˈmō-tiv : something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act

 

Motivation is simply the drive that moves us to take an action.  These drives might be physical (to have a drink of water when we're thirsty); intellectual (to read a book when we're bored); or emotional (to call a friend when we're feeling sad).  As humans, we're motivated to do what we believe is in our best interests.  Sometimes that results in positive achievements; sometimes in (retrospectively) stupid mistakes.

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Our beliefs about what our beset interests really are can make motivation in times of change particularly challenging for an organization.  When a new direction is announced, and involves potentially painful changes like reorganizations, staffing changes or business process restructurings, a quite complex web of motivations can arise:

Employees may feel their 'best interest' is simply to survive the change
Department managers may feel their 'best interest' is to keep delivering results at any cost - and to survive the change
Senior leadership may feel that their 'best interest' is to avoid being blamed if the promised results don't happen - and to survive the change

But how do you keep an organization moving forward when motivations are evolving, and so many people are going into 'survival' mode?

Establishing new direction

As a leader during a business transformation effort, establishing a new direction doesn't mean simply announcing a new strategy and then walking away as if the business will just continue as usual and the changes will magically appear.  It means putting a process in place which encourages and supports each individual as they define wha the new business direction means to them.

This isn't 'touchy-feely, sing kumbaya' stuff.  It's about helping employees understand their role in the transformation, how it will affect them, and what they can do to move forward - because it's only by helping them understand these things that the business change will achieve the ROI that it should.  After all, it's the people in the equation who make or break a transformation.

Removing barriers

The number of barriers the organization faces depends on the nature of the business change.  Barriers to change can be as simple as ensuring everyone in a specific department has adequate education in a new technology, or as complex as inspiring an entire organization to buy into a whole new strategic vision and approach to the marketplace.  Either way, they need to be taken seriously.

Engaging the individuals who are involved in or creating the barriers is the first step to easing them.  You can motivate a department to become engaged in a new technology by helping them understand how it will make their work lives easier; you can motivate an organization to become engaged in a new strategic vision by helping them understand how it will drive their long-term career goals and security.

Providing support

A key role for leaders is to provide support to the team as they change the way they operate on a day-to-day basis.  Supporting individuals means listening, empathizing, and concentrating on their progress through a change.  By providing assistance, feedback and counsel, you're helping them to see that their 'best interests' really do involve moving forward with the changes - and that helps keep them motivated to continue.

Remember:  Support may also involve reiterating why a change is being implemented, what the goals of the change are, and why the timing of the change is important.  This will help drive motivation.

Good leadership = Good motivation

People need leaders to lead, especially during a time of change.  Sounds simple, right?

Except that 'announcing' a change isn't the same as 'leading' one.  Leadership during a change requires a leader who is actively and visibly engaged during the entire process; someone who is seen to be removing barriers, providing support, and communicating the process in a credible way.  When leaders do this, individuals become more and more motivated to work towards a goal which doesn't just benefit 'management' or 'the company', but their own best interests as well.

 

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Employees can be your biggest champions when it comes to making changes within an organization: They can be cheerleaders, early adopters, and insight-providers.

Sometimes, however, people can be the biggest roadblocks when it comes to change. We all have some natural resistance to change, and that's okay - as humans, we're wired to strive for homeostasis.  But some people seem to be more resistant than others, and they tend to fit into 6 categories.

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But here's something to keep in mind: Each of these 6 'resistant' archetypes has something to teach us.  It's sometimes hard to hear their message, but if we can look past the frustration (theirs, and our own) to the root cause of their resistance, we'll often find that they're providing useful insights into the change process - and listening to them will make the change process more successful.

Here's how to deal with them:

Yellers:

The Yeller thinks that if they voice their objections with sufficient volume, they'll eventually get their way - and they often do, because many people find Yellers intimidating.  The sad truth is that most Yellers have good points, but they're often lost in the decibels of their delivery.  The best way to deal with Yellers is simply to let them finish their rant, then pause for 10-15 seconds before you respond.  Most of the time, the dramatic post-yell silence will give them time to realize that yelling may not work this time.  It's important not to take Yellers personally - they're not yelling at you, they're yelling because they're finding the situation scary or stressful.  Sometimes they aren't feeling heard at all and they think raising their voice will solve that problem.  Acknowleding their concerns, and answering them, can often turn them into powerful allies.

Agree-ers:

These are the people who agree to everything when they're in the room, and then somehow never actually do anything they've agreed to.  Nor do they feel it necessary to support you outside of the meeting room the way they supported you inside of it.  It can be hard to spot an Agree-er until you discover that some key task hasn't been completed, or that they've been disagreeing with the agreed-upon direction behind your back, but the fix is relatively easy: Make the accountable and establish consequences for non-compliance.  Spell out what 'agreement' looks like and hold them accountable.  Ensure you follow up meetings with an email that clearly assigns their tasks, deadlines and a reporting method that makes it difficult for them to make excuses.

Critics:

The Critic thinks that the best way to make a 'contribution' to the change process is by poking holes in every idea or action item on the agenda.  The most effective way to defuse a chronic Critic is to respond to each criticism with "Thank you for bringing that up."  Then, if you've had the same concern, share what has been done to alleviate it.  If it is something that you and your team hadn't thought of, encourage the Critic to provide suggestions on how to best deal with that potential problem.  Try to remain open, as difficult as that may be.  the more open you are to hearing what the Critic has to say, the more they will pick and choose what they criticize.  One last thing: Don't ever wish your Critic would just 'shut up' and get back to work.  They can often save you from problems down the road - you just have to be open to hearing what they have to say.

Nay-Sayers:

Like the Critic, the Nay-Sayer tends to cast a sense of doom over the change initiative, but in a more general way:  "I just don't see how this is going to be possible in the timeframe we're talking about..."  Some experts say the most effective way to deal with Nay-Sayers is to ignore them and hope they'll get swept up in the tide of enthusiasm.  I say the best way is to speak to them privately, let them know how important they are to the initiative, and give them a feeling of ownership.  In many cases, it's just a matter of making Nay-Sayers feel more personally engaged.

Pollyannas:

The flip-side to the Nay-Sayers are the Pollyannas: The hopelessly optimistic types who think everything will 'somehow' work out even if they don't actually identify or address real problems.  Dealing with Pollyannas tends to involve clearly articulating 'what-if' scenarios ("What will happen if we leave this department as it is, as you suggest, while the other departments change?") and then guiding them to solutions.  It's helpful to note that Pollyannas may be just as scared of change as Yellers - they're just dealing with it differently.

Perfectionists

These are the people with self-professed 'high standards' who don't want to make a move until every T is crossed and every I is dotted - and who can always find a T or an I which hasn't been sufficiently dealt with.  Perfectionists tend to say that they're worried about the organization's 'reputation', but in fact are genuinely and personally uncomfortable with anything that isn't perfect.  This isn't the first time this Perfectionist has used his or her 'high standards'.  Demonstrating that you have a strong contingency plan, and that the 'worst-case' scenario won't actually bring disaster, can reduce their fears and encourage them to take action.

When you're dealing with 'people roadblocks' to change, the most important thing to remember is that almost all of them are just expressions of the natural fear and anxiety that the prospect of change elicits from all of us.  Each one of these roadblocks can be turned into precious building blocks as you move through an important change initiative.  Finding a way to calm their fears and address the anxiety can turn even the most negative archetype into an enthusiastic change supporter.

 

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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