April 8, 2017

So you want change? How to avoid change management confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration and false starts.

To change is to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.

If you find it interesting to understand what happens when change goes wrong, this article is for you. Rather than offering another rote model for what change management should be, I will write about the impact on people when shortcuts are taken.

Within organisations change poses a risk to personal equilibrium and requires individuals to take different actions, thus creating a different future through cause and effect. However, personal change may appear difficult or nonsensical to some which can lead to frustration and resistance if left unaddressed.

Step forward the Vision impact. If clarity is light, confusion is dark and without clarity, confusion abounds. A good vision answers the overriding question ‘WHY?’ Without vision, individuals are unable to subject their personal needs to those of a greater good and will, therefore, continue to operate in a way that best suits their personal requirements. Hence the commonplace challenge of fiefdoms with conflicting priorities and multiple programs addressing in piecemeal the larger cross-functional problems.

If you desire change but do not enable people to operate in a better way you create anxiety. Anxiety represents feelings of unease, worry and fear. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations individuals might experience when worried or nervous about something and is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response – the normal biological reaction to feeling threatened.

Resistance to change can stem from a wide range of interests but is ultimately rooted in the lack of incentive (something which encourages a person to act). Coercion is technically an incentive but represents the removal of free will i.e. ‘they will have to do it the new way’. With coerced work such as slavery or serfdom work is motivated by the threat or use of violence, pain and/or deprivation. In modern society we find this concept abhorrent but if we examine some change practices, the violence, pain and deprivation is disguised in new forms.

Resource constraint is ever-present in our age of leanness. Poor change management can trigger breaking points, the impact of which is frustration but may also lead to systemic failure. Good resource management is the efficient and effective deployment of an organization’s resources when they are needed and may include financial resources, inventory, human skills, production resources, or technology. Change agents will do well to remember that all parts of an aligned organisation are components operating toward the end product (whatever that may be). By handicapping one, all suffer directly or indirectly.

The corny line of ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’ holds true here. How many programmes have you seen put on hold, re-launched or simply canned altogether. These are all symptoms of change management failure and highlight operational/intellectual silos.

It is said that a change is as good as a rest. Human nature loves novelty but also values security. We are a paradoxical species but extremely predictable so please, please, please, take change management seriously when you consider your next great initiative and avoid encountering the issues above.

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by Grant Watling

Chief Customer Officer

Grant has 11 years management consulting experience specialising in supplier data and analytics advisory services. Grant holds a Master’s Degree (MSc) in International Business, is a Prince2 practitioner and holds certificates from the Institute of Financial Services and the Chartered Insurance Institute.
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