One of the most important jobs of a leader—and difficult, I might add—is to gauge the need for organizational change, relate it to the business environment, and then convince the troops that organizational change is not only necessary but desirable.
Let me explain.
When the external environment is in sync with the organizational strategy and the behaviors of the organization, then change comes in the form of “fine tuning” rather than massive transition. What type of environment are we experiencing today? This is a period of uncertainty regarding the economic recovery as well as the capital markets. If your business is dependent upon infusions of new capital then the anxiety meter is off the page. As a leader of your organization, now is the time to be initiating change—in fact, it may be too late already.
Often, change is difficult to implement as there are natural forces that clash with the process of making change. This is normal and involves our human behavior. But leaders can deal with this resistance if they understand its origins. Let’s review them.
- Lack of trust. All followers follow leaders because they inherently trust their judgment and actions. If the leader does not enjoy a fair measure of trust, the path to implementing change will be more difficult.
- Change is not necessary. If the followers or organization does not believe there is a need for change, then change will be difficult to implement.
- Change is not feasible. This is different from ‘not necessary,’ as followers are concerned that the change (possibly the rate of change) is not feasible and will likely be successful. The more radical the change, the more likely others will view it as unfeasible. If there have been past failures at implementing change, then this compounds the problem of acceptance. Why will we be successful when we haven’t been successful in the past?
- Negative economic impact. When individuals are personally impacted from a change in economics, then you can be sure that there will be big-time resistance. If you will be downsizing and substituting technology for people, there will be a natural tendency to resist this implementation. This is particularly true of the organization that has gone through a similar change in the past. This is a little like backgammon—individuals double and redouble their resistance.
- Fear of failure. Whenever there is a massive dose of change, it is natural for us to unconsciously believe we will not be able to master whatever is new on the horizon. Our lack of self-confidence can freeze us from embracing change. Our leaders need to be sensitive to this human condition so everyone gains the necessary self-confidence to embrace the future.
- Loss of power. Just like musical chairs that we played in grade school, certain individuals will come up short in the struggle to retain or increase their power. For someone who has been through an enormous amount of change in my life, I only offer this. This too shall pass! Accept the outcome if you can’t influence it and mourn your loss and then move on. Life has a lot to offer and there are more opportunities to grow and lead then there are good people.
- Change that impacts core values and beliefs. If the impending change is expected to challenge deeply embedded values, then the resistance to change will be widespread and deep. It is important for leaders to understand this phenomenon. If the change is too radical, it is unlikely to be successful. It all depends on the intensity of change.
- Interference. Most individuals do NOT want to be told what to do and the job of the leader is to convince people that the change is in their best interests. This is not easy and it will require careful orchestration in order to be successful.
In summary, our leadership team needs to be cognizant that humans resist change at every turn. That is probably an overstatement, but it is not far from the truth. As you determine the change required to adjust your business to the external environment, be sure to back up and assess the likelihood of the change being successful. Pick ways in which you can achieve early success so all in the organization will embrace your change.
Now ask yourself…am I a leader?