The Change Offensive: Part I

by | Apr 27, 2018 | Culture, Leadership

Organizations must change & evolve. Research suggests that 80% of employees expect continuous rapid change within the workplace. And yet, human behavior tells us that individuals strongly resist change.

What makes organizations change? They respond to changing markets, or they take the lead and change a market. They respond to disruptive forces, or they disrupt. They change their culture to stem employee turnover, or they redesign the workplace to attract and retain new generations. Whether proactively or reactively, organizations change. Without attention to these changing forces within and around them, organizations fail.

Employees applaud the idea of organizational change, yet they resist change that affects them personally. The resistance to changing comes from two sources:

  • Internal – Changing habits and routines is difficult. Changing how we perceive the world around us and our place in that world is even harder. Habits and routines make living and working easier, and the constancy of our perceptions creates stability.
  • External – Change around us can be threatening. Why would someone support change that might not be in his or her best interest?

In this post, we delve into WHY change is SO hard. In the next post, we will discuss what you can do about it.

What Makes Changing So Difficult?

Upending Routine. Just give it a year (or more). It takes time for new behaviors to replace the worn physical and mental grooves of old behaviors, and the pace of change varies by individual. Phillippa Lally at University College London found that it took on average 66 days for simple new habits, such as drinking a glass of water with lunch, to become automatic. And the time required to form those new habits ranged from 18 to 254 days. A great deal of what employees do at work is habitual, and habits make everyone more efficient. Habits allow us to free up brain space to focus on key issues. Change requires that many daily habits are modified or shifted. That takes time.

Social bonds at work drive performance. Strong relationships at work are a key predictor of performance. Two work-related findings from much of the psychological research on happiness are that (1) people who have a best friend at work are more highly engaged and significantly more likely to engage their customers, and (2) social support at work increases feelings of personal control at work. Organizational change often disrupts those bonds. A lack of trust and increased fear result; dealing with those emotions affects both productivity and quality of output. Who has time to focus on work when they are expending so much energy on resisting change and protecting themselves?

Excellent presentations, and no communication. Social media has thrived partly because people believe their friends more than they believe experts or those in authority. Groups of friends in conversation listen to one another; they share ideas and insights and feelings; they engage over time. But when communication is a series of one-way presentations, individuals allot the presenter about 60 seconds to capture their attention, establish credibility, and motivate them to listen. They also discount all those upbeat superlatives often used to define the coming change and its benefits. Employees do not want to be “sold;” they don’t like announcements and presentations. They want to participate in a web of conversations. Not feeling heard, and not hearing from personally trusted sources, creates a culture of fear.

WIFM (What’s in it for Me?). WIFM has been around a long time, and it is still at the core of much resistance to change. Employees who do not understand how they will personally be affected will rarely support a change. Uncertainty generally creates negativity and can significantly affect productivity. So, what IS in it for an individual? Why should employees support change that might change a work environment that they like – or leave them unemployed?

This is why change is hard, and few proactively embrace it. But stay tuned. We will be sharing how you can ensure that the people who work for you embrace change and don’t bring down your business.

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