Expect Cooperation, not Resistance –
Ways To Make Organisational Change Fast, Fluid and Fun
People will cooperate if they think that change is sensible, meaningful for them.
Very often what is interpreted as signs of resistance are simply signs of confusion – people cannot understand what you want from them. Or of change fatigue – because too much has been changed too fast, all at once, maybe even over and over again, and emotionally they cannot keep up.
Is resistance an invention of the change management industry?
There is so much being written about the signals, symptoms and patterns of resistance, and about how to break them. I refuse to teach how to break something that can be prevented in the first place, by going about doing change in a different way!
A connected belief is that in order to prevent or break resistance you have to create a sense of urgency. In many cases this just means increasing the pressure from above. Well, for me the question is: Is the change initiative urgent or is it not? Are we on a burning platform or not? I think it is best to be honest about that, and not invent a crisis when there is none.
Naturally, if the urgency is high, then the change agents need to do their very best to communicate what might happen if nothing happens. They need to do this in an authentic, clear, understandable and empathic way that speaks to humans. Humans tend to fall prey to the “status-quo-bias”, which is a preference for the current state of affairs. If this is coupled with “loss aversion”, which occurs when they feel threatened by a potential loss of status, identity, group membership or other things they prize, naturally a slowing down of change or even a blockage may ensue.
Resistance is a sign that the worker should do something different. – Steve de Shazer
So, what can you do differently if your change initiative is not going as fast as you would like? Rather than thinking about how to break resistance or simply increase the pressure ask yourself the following questions first:
Do your people have the resources they need to do the change?
Do they have enough…
- Time? – Many change agents are expected to simply do the work “on top” of other pressing responsibilities. This may mean that change work drops to the bottom of the pile in terms of priority.
- Attention, bandwidth, mental capacity? – Strategizing and change work is usually not just done on the side, in the few spare minutes that people have on top of their many operative business tasks. It requires some distance from the daily job, the capacity for self-reflection and being able to tune into a different mental space.
- Skills? – Remember that change work is not part of every leaders or staff members daily work. They may require some additional skills, both in terms of the topic they are asked to work on, as well as regarding change leadership and the organizational innovation process.
- Psychological safety? – Fear significantly reduces human capacity for thinking and increases the flight-or-fight mode. If your people feel stressed out or afraid, chances are high that they are going to tune out, stop listening and dig their heels in.
Then think about coaxing and nudging them, creating the right context where they are encouraged to behave differently, giving guidance and support, as well as making it inevitable that they learn new skills. Try out different change patterns: not one size fits all, so be flexible! And above all: Be motivating, both encouraging all attempts that show good will and correcting the change course lovingly.
Expect cooperation and design your change process with humans in mind. That way you are much more likely to make organizational change fast, fluid and fun!
Learn more about this topic in the FREE workshop I am giving for SFIO (Association for Solution Focus in Organisations)
on Sunday, June 6, between 11 - 12.30 am CEST.