The resistance to change
“The only constant is change.” I think a Greek philosopher said it first, but we’ve all said it over and over since its first uttering. That’s because it rings true, both personally and professionally. We are inundated with new information, new technologies, cool apps we should try, new ways to engage and connect - the list goes on. What’s most important is recognizing it’s not change itself but rather how we respond to change that will determine a positive or a negative outcome.
Humor me for a moment and recall a time in your work life when something was about to change at work. What was your immediate reaction? Upon hearing about impending change, some of us may admit to an eyeroll, a groan of dismay, perhaps a passing thought like “here we go again.” Some might have swapped opinions with colleagues or expressed outright concern or frustration - “we tried this once before and it didn’t work.” These types of responses are often the result of not fully understanding the reason for the change.
Why we resist change
Organizations don’t change, individuals do. No matter the size or complexity of the change, the success of any transformation initiative relies on individual employees doing something different. Role, responsibilities, work structure, technology or tools, and processes may all be different as a result of the change. It’s up to every individual within the organization to recognize the process required through to accept and adapt to the “new.”
However, even with the best intentions, change can be met with resistance. The role of HR and leader-stakeholders is to mitigate expected reactions to change. Changing the way your business operates, the systems commonly used, or the ways in which you interact with customers is no small feat and requires a well thought out plan.
According to McKinsey, 70% of change management and transformation programs fail to achieve the desired outcomes because mindset remains unchanged. This is precisely why Leapgen’s equation for Digital HR Transformation (see below) starts with mindset, then goes on to address people and process; all of this before a technology transition, something many are tempted or pressured to put first in the equation. Those affected by the eventual change are not yet prepared to be open-minded, so their initial knee-jerk response is resistance to whatever is being asked of them, almost regardless of what the change is. Resistance and lack of support are two common factors creating barriers to transformation success.
The true essence of successful change management starts with people. Many of our customers find tremendous success with a method or approach referred to as ADKAR, developed by PROSCI. While there are many theories and models for change management, ADKAR seems to get to the heart of the matter with a focus on breaking down the human side of change. There is no right or wrong model; the important thing is to use an approach or framework that works for your organization.
ADKAR+U States of change
The ADKAR framework is focused on understanding change at an individual level. There are five elements I like to think of as building blocks, or guiding principles. All five elements must be in place to realize the positive outcomes of change management.
The goal is to learn the business reasons for the change, why the change is necessary, and “what’s in it for me” (or WIIFM). Engage with those who will be impacted by the prescribed change, get early buy-in, and ask for their input. People tend to want to be part of the change, but before they commit they want to understand the “why.”
Everyone is motivated differently, and this element of ADKAR represents the willingness to engage and support change. This is ultimately about personal choice, which is influenced by the nature of the change and one’s individual motivators. People feel more connected to the change once they’ve been heard.
In this stage, we are working toward understanding “how” to actually change. Knowledge includes critical information detailing expected behaviors, processes, tools, systems, skills, and job roles. The tactical side of the knowledge stage includes developing a broad spectrum of activities that will enable each person to learn in a way that’s effective for them.
This is where the rubber meets the road. The real execution of change happens when knowledge turns into action. I recently met with a group of client stakeholders. I asked, “How well did you adapt to the most recent technology change?” The cheeky but truth-revealing response to this piece of technology was, “You mean, Stop All Production?” He felt training was a waste of time and that the new processes and application actually hindered his ability to complete daily work tasks. Perhaps not enough time was spent on awareness, desire and knowledge - or actually getting to know what success looked like for field employees who would be using the new application. Knowledge does not automatically translate into ability.
The final element represents those internal and external factors that sustain the change. Project teams often want to celebrate the “Go Live” of a major technology deployment. At Leapgen, we emphasize “Go Begin” rather than “Go Live.” Workforce change is an emotional journey and one that requires us to celebrate moments that matter. To that end, we also encourage our customers to focus not only on traditional ROI (Return on Investment) but rather our definition of ROI (Run, Optimize, Innovate). Reinforce and embrace change by emphasizing value, focusing on continuous improvement, deepening existing skills, and learning new skills.
Once you’ve done the work to empower and sustain change over the long term, make room for a final element and revisit as often as needed - Updates. As much as change is constant, it may also iterate and require updates over time to continually drive new Awareness, Desire, Knowledge and Ability.
The ability to quickly and easily adapt to change is a significant competitive advantage for any business today. Make an intentional choice to embrace a thoughtful approach to helping individuals navigate change at work. ADKAR is just one method with proven success for many of our clients, but there are many simple tools and techniques focused on internal communications, sponsorship, advocacy, training, coaching and managing resistance that can help.