Resistance to Change in the Workplace

Resistance to Change in the Workplace

In an ever-evolving competitive landscape, businesses and organizations of all types must be adept and nimble at dealing with change. Far too many companies find themselves always slightly behind the curve – reacting to change rather than being proactive about it. Companies that want to put themselves on the leading edge and stay there have to learn to both lead and manage change. But all to often when a company does try to take the proverbial bull by the horns, they immediately run into all kinds of resistance throughout the organization to change efforts. In fact, the statistics about change efforts are downright shocking (source)

  • 70% of change efforts fail to meet target impact
  • 33% of change efforts fail because management behavior does not support the change
  • 39% of efforts fail because employees are resistant to change
  • 14% of efforts fail because of a lack of adequate funds or resources
  • 14% of efforts fail for “other” reasons

Those numbers are sobering enough to give anyone pause when contemplating a change initiative. And yet the plain fact of the matter is that every organization has to get good at change or die. It helps to adopt a change model that can help you make sure you’re covering all the bases. One of the best out there was developed by Dr. John Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School. He’s a best-selling author, has a robust management consulting group (Kotter International), and is renowned for his thought leadership on change.

In his1996 book titled Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press), Kotter first introduced his change model, which has been tweaked a bit over the years into its current 8-Step Process for Leading Change. Here are the steps he recommends:

    1. Create a Sense of Urgency. This may sound easy, but it actually requires striking a tricky balance to create urgency without scaring people so much that they resist the change. The tricky thing here is to not scare people so much with potential gloom and doom that they wind up resisting the change. It helps to position the change in as positive a light as possible, placing emphasis on the good outcomes that will be achieved, as opposed to just avoiding negative outcomes. Try to make it exciting rather than too much gloom and doom. 
    2. Build a Guiding Coalition. You simply must have a team of powerful, influential people from key positions working together to help establish the sense of urgency and orchestrate the change effort.
    3. Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives. In order to get to point B from point A, you have to know what point B looks like in as much detail as possible. A clear vision that steers the entire project is essential, along with the concrete goals and objectives to get there.
    4. Enlist a Volunteer Army. While the guiding coalition is critical, you also need plenty of other people on board who will help create momentum and desire among everyone to participate in the change effort.
    5. Remove Obstacles. When you do catch wind of resistance (which is nearly inevitable), figure out why it’s happening and remove any perceived barriers.
    6. Generate Short-Term Wins. Pick some of the low-hanging fruit in terms of positive change to show quick, positive results that will help build momentum in the change project. Highlight early victories, celebrate them, and clearly link them to results.
    7. Sustain Acceleration. When you start gathering momentum, make the most of it by leveraging it into more accomplishments and removing any remaining barriers to keep things moving forward. Without constant attention on this process, a change initiative that starts out strong can still fizzle out.
    8. Institutionalize Change. In this step it’s critical to make sure the change sticks by doing whatever it takes to cement it into the organization’s culture. This is about ensuring the change is sustained even if there’s turnover in key leadership.

Keep in mind that this 8-step process is just a model. Your unique situation may not fit it exactly, and you may need to do your own tweaking of it along the way, but it’s one change model that has stood the test of time and help many organizations accomplish great things.

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