Change Management Process: Turn Detractors Into Advocates
Change happens. Constantly.
Yet change is often difficult, even something to dread. The perceived nature of change can lead to resistance of the ‘new’ even when the change represents a clear and needed improvement to the status quo. That resistance can derail any new initiative, transformation, or organizational refactoring project you undertake.
But it doesn’t have to. In fact, effective change management can and will improve the likelihood of success of any transformation.
When done well, your change management strategy can even turn the biggest detractors to the ‘new’ into powerful allies and partners in your transformation.
This post will shine a light on just some ways to help turn those who resist into advocates of change.
Understanding Resistance To Beneficial Change
Agility is now a must in the modern business world. Complex challenges and problems are now the norm. Market wants and demands change quickly. There is always the possibility that a disruptor is just about to upend an entire industry by implementing Scrum, creating faster feedback loops, and dramatically decreasing the time it takes to bring new products or services to market.
To thrive - or even survive - organisations must refactor and become Agile themselves. With so much at stake, these transformations are the definition of beneficial change.
However Scrum and Agile transformations of any size represent significant change. A point most organizations take far too lightly.
Sometimes change takes place slowly and incrementally - more of an evolution. Then there are the moments when the speed and scope of change make it nothing short of a revolution.
Either way, the intensity of resistance often grows in direct proportion to the scope and speed of the change (or changes) taking place. The bigger the change, the fiercer and more entrenched the resistance.
This happens because one group with one set of information (people helping plan the change) views a situation one way. In contrast, another group without that information (everyone else in the organization) views it another way.
Kahn (2012) explained this as the two groups having cross-purposes and the employee’s actions as social defenses, where they are doing things that appear irrational on the surface for what they consider a rational purpose. We also know from the theory of planned behavior that these beliefs are not necessarily formed rationally and may not reflect reality (Ajzen, 2012).
But, as shown by Geraerts et al. (2008), regardless of how based on fact or fiction the belief may be, it is acted upon by the person as being valid and accurate.
Change Management: Communication
When employees are not given clear, constant communication, they perceive the change as a threat to what they know and as a wrong thing to do. This is certain to lead to overt resistance (Caruth & Caruth, 2018) as they are being put into a situation where they have nothing to lose by their opposition.
There is a possibility of covert resistance as well, such as potentially sabotaging operational aspects of the organization or generally making things difficult through non-cooperation and being negative (Caruth & Caruth, 2018).
Further, Tobore (2019) explained that self-perception of expertise increases closed-mindedness. That is, employees “know” they are good at their job, and a disruption to that, be it Scrum, an Agile transformation, or any other change, is, to them, something that management is doing wrong. They are the experts, as they see it, a need to change their job is an insult to their expertise.
That people’s initial reaction to change is resistance is well known.
Some key actions to dissipating that change, however, are not as often discussed. Dr. John Kotter, considered by many to be the leading authority on change, believes lack of communication to employees is one of eight required steps to mitigate failures in change initiatives (Kotter, 1995). Greiner’s change process model’s third phase, diagnosis and recognition of the problem(s), and fourth phase, invention, and commitment to a solution, must involve representatives from all impacted groups (Lunenburg, 2010).
Lunenburg further mentions that step three of Greiner’s model is typically skipped in failed change attempts.
Kotter’s 8-Stage Model also requires participation from all groups of stakeholders (Kotter, 1995). Similar to Greiner, Kotter calls for participation in what he terms “the guiding coalition” (step 2) (p. 98) and the creation of a vision (step 3).
Change Management Process
In summary, there is almost universal agreement among all change models and theories of key actions to help mitigate resistance to change. These include:
- People are more concerned about their interests than those of the organization. The organization must make the benefits the employees will receive from the change abundantly clear. Allow numerous Q&A sessions between change leaders and other employees so concerns can be aired and addressed.
- When there is a belief that organizational change does not make sense, employees resist change. Change agents in the form of coworkers within the organization that employees trust and look to for guidance can be crucial in getting doubters to consider the change with a positive mindset.
- When there is a misunderstanding of how the change will impact the organization or the individual, there can be resistance. This need further underscores the need for repeated, constant dialogue with all employees about what will change, why it’s needed, and the benefits to employees. In addition to the typical major announcements, repeated smaller gatherings of employees are preferable. It allows people to be heard as individuals without the pressure of a large group and provides the opportunity for change agents to give more individualized explanations of why the change is needed and how the change is beneficial to each person. Small group sessions also help reveal things that may need to be brought back to the change management team to be addressed.
- When there is low tolerance to change, there is resistance. Even when acknowledging change is good, they may still resist due to self-doubt. Consider when you were first allowed to do something on a grand scale, and you accepted it happily, but in the pit of your stomach realized you were in the spotlight. Many people cannot handle this situation well, even on a very small scale, so empathy and patience must be provided. Asking someone to change too much, too fast, can result in resistance from a potential ally, so be sure to understand the individuals involved.
Remember, an effective change management process relies on good, two-way communication. Leadership needs to listen as much as they speak. Detractors need to be heard and understood if they are to become advocates. Their feedback is a gift that can be used to adapt and improve an organization’s transformation.
Ajzen, I. (2012). The theory of planned behavior. In P. A. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 438-459). SAGE Publications Ltd https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446249215.n22
Caruth, D. L., & Caruth, G. D. (2018). Managing workplace resistance to change. Industrial Management,60(4), 21–23.
Kahn, W. A. (2012). The functions of dysfunction: Implications for organizational diagnosis and change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 64(3), 225–241. https://doi.org./10.1037/a0030009
Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 59-67.
Kotter, J. P., & Schlesinger, L. A. (2008). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 86(7–8), 130-139.
Lunenburg, F. C. (2010). Approaches to managing organizational change. International Journal of Scholarly Academic Intellectual Diversity, 12(1). 1–10.
Tobore, T. O. (2019). On energy efficiency and the brain’s resistance to change: The neurological evolution of dogmatism and close-mindedness. Psychological Reports, 122(6), 2406-2416. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033294118792670