Leadership Today
Reflections from Good to Great and Beyond Great, part 9

Reaction to Change

There will always be some interesting reactions to change in our workplaces (and lives). It can create some interesting and demanding leadership challenges when we implement new methods, tools, and technologies as our organization pursue improvement (or transformation).
One common change model illustrates that the human reaction typically involves four stages which can be plotted as a function of organizational performance. 
Stage One—Let's begin in the upper left-hand quadrant of this graphic. It shows the direction of performance motivation immediately following communication about or implementatoin of change. Performance can plummets. That initial reaction to the change is often “denial.”—
·         “They will never do that here.”
·         “They cannot do that in our industry.” 
·         “It cannot be true.”
·         Etc.
As people spiral into preoccupation and speculation about the changes, they take the eye off of the business things that we need them to be closely attending to. It is easy to see how this impacts day-to-day results and output. More time is spent in the rumor mill that normal, and business can suffer.
Stage Two—“resistance” is also very emotional. People see that the organizational intent is real, but they are still preoccupied with what it all will mean for them personally.  Those in authority are moving to implement the change.  Everyone else is watching. They may not speak it or share it openly, but the thought process can be ripe with resistance—
·         “They just think that will work here.”
·         “We will show them that it won’t work.”
Again, the performance curve continues its downward drop.
Stage Three—“exploration” is the point at which people start to let go of the emotional response. They have begun to more or less internalize that the change is going to happen. Many people will be feel a need to better examine the possibilities and see how to navigate.  At this stage, performance begins a climb out of the ditch.
Stage Four—“moving on” includes a vision about where everything is headed. People are adapting. Performance climbs. Progress is apparent.
Now, the key truth we need to realize through the “chaos” of change is that we cannot somehow eliminate or by-pass these emotional reactions.  We might want to do it, but we can’t just short circuit these stages.  Managers that become effective at facilitating change recognize and embrace this human reaction. These leaders focus on how to help people begin to explore the possibilities more quickly. The key is to use techniques that let you navigate through the reactions more rapidly. Examples of techniques these leaders will employ include:
·         They help their people grasp the “vision” driving the change.  It is true for all of us, we are not so reluctant or resistant if we can see where we are going. Vision and direction, thus, are critical and should be shared.
·         They engage their employees in the processes to explore and implement the new requirements.  Another truth for us all is that we do not react as strongly if we are empowered and have the space to participate and contribute to the future—perhaps working on how the changes will be implemented.
·         They recognize the stress attached to change and open up opportunities to answer questions and talk about fears and frustrations. Communication, abundant information, becomes critical for effective change management.
There are volumes published on change management, so we won't pursue this farther. As you explore those volumes on methods and techniques, be on the lookout for how they map into this phenomenon related to the human reaction to change.
Many thanks,

Larry Meeker
President, Advanced Team Concepts




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