Change Management has two sides – the technical / functional side, which is also called the “hard” side of change management and the people side, which is called the “soft” side of change management. Both the sides are difficult to manage during organizational transformation and change journeys.
However, quoting John P Kotter “The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of the people”. And therefore, when trying to understand how change management works, one must first understand how humans generally function.
Taking the evolutionary and neuroscience perspective, humans are “status quo” loving beings. We have a natural tendency to like structure, clarity, peace and stability. Anything that can rock the boat, make things ambiguous, lose structure or is challenging, naturally makes us feel anxious. That is what change does. The “not feeling good” phase during change makes us more resistant to it. Based on an HBR article by Rosabeth Kanter (2012) titled “Ten Reasons People Resist Change”,
Here are the 10 listed reasons.
- Fear of losing control due to the change – unable to make independent decisions, for instance.
- Increased unpredictability and uncertainty. The quote “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know” holds true for us. Uncertainty increases anxiousness in people and hence, they resist change.
- Lesser time is another reason. Often, change decisions are implemented without giving enough time for people to cope and move with the flow. Since we have a natural tendency to resist change, but change is the only constant, enough time plays an important role to manage that change.
- We are tuned to follow a routine and habit and change disrupts that. The feeling of discomfort that arises due to the change is directly proportional to how much change is expected to be brought about by the people. Greater the differences, more the discomfort.
- There can be either loss of faith if one is at the receiving end or can be a loss of face if one is at the initiating end of a failure in change management. Both can bring about resistance.
- When change makes people question their abilities and reduce the level of confidence, it can make people resist it.
- Increased work pressure is an outcome of change and often, a reason for resistance. The implementors are more under pressure than others and are more stressed.
- Change can hurt – people lose jobs, prices are cut, environment and internal climate changes – and this is another reason for resisting change.
Having understood these reasons, let us now list some ways we can make the soft side of change better.
This will help us to make changes to the way how change management works.
- Give options or choices to people in the change process. Ask them to make decisions, take initiative or charge of some task. Restore that sense of control in them.
- Leaders to take charge and communicate the vision to the people. That reduces uncertainty, provides a rationale and direction and instills a sense of safety and structure.
- Change should be planned and must be communicated well in advance instead announcing it last minute. If not the complete communication, subtle hints would suffice. There is more harm to keep change related conversations a secret and then announcing all at once.
- Introduce change in piece meal method, especially if it is a bigger one. Treat it one step at a time.
- Just the way change is constant, failure too, is unavoidable. It is not necessary that all change management decisions and processes will work. Some may fall through the cracks due to incorrect decisions or poor management. It is important to celebrate whatever has worked and learn from what didn’t. Position failure as a learning and let failure not make people resist change.
- Adequate training, coaching and mentoring must be provided to people to upskill or reskill them so that they can cope with the change and work with the belief that they can achieve it.
- Leaders can provide additional perquisites like incentives, meals, travel, etc to keep the ones under work pressure motivated.
- Leaders and change initiators should be honest, transparent, fast and fair when initiating change to help people cope better.
Change management is an expensive process in terms of people’s emotions and investment of revenue. Managing the emotions of people is more important because with that the business performance can be taken care of. Loss of talent due to change can cost the company and therefore, it is better to plan and manage the soft side of change and re-look at how change management works in most organizations.