Change is NOT the Problem

Published on 2014-05-07

Change is not the problem
CHANGE MANAGEMENT TRAINING IS POPULAR RIGHT NOW. Australia is near the end of the fiscal year, China has just begun to warm up, and as a result targets, processes, structures and strategies are all being reviewed. The interesting thing for me is that each meeting has focused on a perception that each announcement of planned changes will be greeted with something similar company-wide civil unrest.
‘We know that they will be unhappy, so how can we overcome their objections?’
‘How can we convince them that they should follow these new instructions?’
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]There is an apparent global assumption that people hate change and that any suggested changes will automatically cause uproar.[/quote] These are but two examples of questions which we have been asked recently. There is an apparent global assumption that people hate change and that any suggested changes will automatically cause uproar. However, if we take a moment to look at human behaviour, we soon see that, far from fearing and loathing change, we are actually programmed to seek out change on a regular basis.
Raise your hand if you are still wearing the same style of clothes as you did 20 years ago.  I would also like to see a show of hands for those of you who have lived in the same house, had the same job, liked the same music,  eaten the same dinner, or gone to the same holiday destinations your entire life. Anybody? No. I didn’t think so.
You see, change is all around us and is an integral part of our lives. We love change. Without our constant need for change, the fashion industry would not exist, we would all be driving the same cars as were available in the 1920s and our mobile phones (if by some fluke we managed to invent the phone in the first place) would still be a similar size to those cars. Without change, there would be no innovation and without innovation, nobody would have ever heard of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]Well, in simple terms, the British people ‘just felt that it was time for a change’.[/quote] At the end of the Second World War, Winston Churchill was regarded as the saviour of Great Britain. He had stiffened the British backbone at a time when our resolve was at its lowest. Such was his popularity, that when he died in 1965, the UK came to a standstill and grown men cried in the streets. However, in 1945, just months after playing a leading role in the Allies’ victory, Churchill was defeated in a general election and replaced with  a new leader, Clement Atlee. How could this happen? Well, in simple terms, the British people ‘just felt that it was time for a change’.
I am fairly sure that if Karl Marx and Max Engels had sat down in their Manchester bedsit and produced a short manifesto entitled ‘Let’s just keep things the way they are’, then Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ would have contained little more than phone numbers and would have enjoyed a far smaller readership. The fact is that we love change. Our constant quest for new ways of doing things, for need to change designs and new challenges is what sets us apart from all the other mammals. The human race is the dominant force on earth as we are the only species capable of changing our environment to suit us. Admittedly, going on the pollution in Beijing for the past few years, we have not yet mastered the art of only making changes for the better.
So, by using amongst other things, Churchill, fashion, Karl Marx and, on a slightly less globally influencing note, my recent golfing trip to Thailand as examples, we can see that change is attractive to us.
When we look at change management, we should not be thinking that people automatically resist change. [quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]eople do not fear change, they fear the unknown[/quote] People do not fear change, they fear the unknown and will quite understandably be worried about situations which will effect them adversely. I was quite happy to book a ticket to Thailand in the safe knowledge that it will be sunny and I will have a good time. Syria and Mali are far lower down my list of preferred holiday destinations.
Ask someone to close their eyes and put out their hand, and the natural reaction will be ‘Why?’ Likewise, ask someone to reach their arm into a dark hole in a wall or a bag and the reaction will be the same (either that or a flat out No!). It is no different when we ‘out of the blue’, announce to our staff that the system which they have become accustomed to and feel safe with will now be changed. We may enjoy change, but the only surprises we like involve pay rises, cakes with candles on them and vast inheritances from relatives we did not know we had.
The change is not the issue here. The real problems are:

  • A lack of time for our staff to become accustomed to the idea of change.
  • No effort being made to obtain buy-in from them in advance of an official announcement.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]Here is a torch, now shine it into the bag and take out any money that you see in there[/quote] When we move house, we do so because we feel the new house is better than the old one. We buy a new car for the same reason. Thus, any planned change should be accompanied (or even better preceded) with a clear outline of the benefits, both to the company as a whole and more importantly, to individual staff. If I refer back to a previous example, it is a case of not simply saying “Reach into this dark bag”, but rather saying “Here is a torch, now shine it into the bag and take out any money that you see in there”.
We should stop basing our change management plans on the assumption that people automatically object to change, as that is just not accurate. This suggests that never mind what we do, people will complain. This thinking conveniently absolves management from any responsibility for the reaction of their staff to a planned change.
People do not hate change. People hate nasty surprises. People dislike having change forced on them. People may lack trust in the decision making abilities of their managers. People are normally uncomfortable with badly communicated change. Most importantly, people will balk at change when they see no benefit in it for them.
Communicated the right way and your people will love change. They love to earn more money. They love to be able to get the job done faster and with less effort. They revel in the trust displayed by a manager who seeks their counsel on a proposed change in advance. In short, the biggest obstacle to your staff accepting change… is, well, you!