A few years ago a memorable advertising campaign depicted well-groomed men sporting rather magnificent black eyes. The ads said that these men would “rather fight than switch” their brand of cigarettes. The ads were effective because that’s the way it is in real life. Getting people to change the way they do anything is much like asking them to throw away their favourite slippers for a new pair that you’ve chosen for them. Although you’re not apt to end up in a fist fight, any time you try to introduce change into people’s lives you can usually expect some degree of resistance; quite often you will encounter a great deal of resistance. It’s at this point that you have to remind yourself that evolutions are preferable to revolutions.
Consider for a moment how difficult it is to change yourself and you’ll better understand how hard it is to get others to change their opinions or their ways of doing things. Yet, we often find ourselves in circumstances where it is necessary to effect changes in the way people think, in the way they do things, or in what they actually do. When you find yourself in the position of having to introduce change into people’s lives you will quickly discover that most folks are more comfortable with old problems than they are with new solutions.
Because most people feel threatened to at least some degree by change, there is rarely any sure-fire way to make them like it. Usually the best you can hope to accomplish is to help them feel less threatened. One way to do this is to clearly demonstrate the advantages flowing from the change, especially any way in which they will be better off, either as individuals or as a group, as a result of the change. In fact, if you can’t clearly demonstrate the advantage of the change you want made, you should reconsider whether the change should even be suggested.
People are also less likely to strenuously resist change if they know exactly what lies ahead and what the recognizable value is of each step along the way. So before you introduce a major change in what people do or how they do it, be sure you’ve worked out how to clearly communicate such details to everyone who is affected. Another thing to keep in mind is that big changes are usually better understood, and therefore more readily accepted, when presented in bite-size pieces.
When introducing change to a group of people you must remember that the group is rarely homogeneous; any group will be made up of individuals who are probably motivated by different factors, so they won’t all be moved by the same arguments and persuasions. You get people to do what you want them to do by understanding what motivates them, not by threatening, bullying or tricking them. You need to find out what’s important to the people affected so that you can craft the change in a way that meets as many of their needs as possible.
People who don’t care about a problem won’t care about its solution. So always begin by clearly explaining, in terms that are easily understood, the nature of the problem and the negative effects it’s having, or is going to have, on the people involved if changes aren’t made.
The people who do a job are usually the most knowledgeable about it and are the best source of ideas for improving how it is done, so you should start with them when dealing with workplace change. Wise managers always consult their people about any prospective changes, asking for ideas and assistance. Ideas are like children; a person’s own are special. By incorporating the views of those who will be most affected by the change you will make them feel that at least part of the decision was theirs. As a result they will be more apt to co-operate.
Anytime you’re trying to change the status quo, remember that somebody is responsible for it; and it might be the person you’re talking to. So try not to be too negative about the status quo, concentrate instead on the advantages of the proposed change.
A common mistake made when managing change involving a large number of people is putting off executing the change while trying to convince everyone of it merits. As much as it would be nice to get everybody on side, trying to do so is usually futile. Don’t waste too much time working on the ten percent who will never, under any circumstances, accept the changes you’re trying to introduce. Concentrate instead on the ninety percent who can be convinced it’s a good idea.
Change in response to success is a lot easier to effect than change in response to failure, so don’t wait until something goes drastically wrong before introducing your changes. The ideal scenario would be to plan changes well in advance of the time they need to be implemented and to introduce them gradually while things are still going well.
You can’t usually improve everything all at once, but often a little change now can pave the way for a great change later on. For example, when personal computers first became readily available and affordable for most businesses, the organizations that experienced the least resistance to their introduction were the ones that introduced them gradually, starting with the departments where their benefits to the individuals using them would be most obvious. In the organizations that took this approach employees in the departments that didn’t yet have their computers were actually looking forward to the change, whereas the organizations that waited too long, and tried to make the change all at once, usually experienced a great deal of resistance and, in some cases, utter chaos.
The adage that cautions “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is a good one. In your haste to deal with things that might go wrong, be sure you don’t tamper with things that are perfectly fine as they are. Old ways might be old for a very good reason – that they’re actually the best way to do things. Just because something is different doesn’t automatically mean that it’s better. On the other hand, to begin something new you sometimes have to end something old, even if it’s still working fine: replacing typewriters with word processors comes to mind as an example.
When you are the person on the receiving end of a proposed new way of doing something, instead of thinking about all the reasons why it might not work, look for one good reason why it might. In changing circumstances the phrase “survival of the fittest” should itself be changed to “survival of the most adaptable.”
Following are two more thoughts on managing change. First, the world needs smart young people with the imagination and the drive to want to turn everything upside down; but the world also needs old fogies to keep the young from turning upside down things that should remain right side up. And, finally, most changes are accomplished by compromise; a “my way or the highway” approach is rarely the best way to efficiently effect change.