People don't resist change, they resist being changed

Everyone knows change is hard and the most difficult part of any change effort is obtaining buy-in. Relatively speaking, it is often the change itself—new software, new organization charts or new work methodologies—that is the easiest to manage. The more difficult part of change is building buy-in, channeling shifts in behavior and accelerating acceptance.

 

Peter Senge was right, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” Change can cause fear or discomfort when people are asked to stretch out of their comfort zones. In addition, it often requires incremental work—time to learn new concepts, build new skills or adopt new approaches. This worry, unease or extra effort can result in a wave of push-back or skepticism about the change and its value. 


Given these challenges, it’s helpful to realize that the reasons people resist change are often not about the changes themselves, but about the implications of the change. The six surprising reasons people resist include the following:


People want clear future direction. Sometimes changes to systems or approaches in the way work will get done can make people question the direction or the future of the company. If there are job cuts, is the organization still viable overall? If changes are occurring in an enterprise management system, will customers still be adequately served to ensure success in the organization?


In order to accept change more easily, people will benefit from understanding the overall reasons for the change—the why—and how the changes support the purpose and long-term mission of the company. They will also need to understand the expected positive impact of the change and why it will be worth the effort. Leadership must be visible as they share this kind of information. They must also be accessible in order to answer questions and they must model the way—demonstrating acceptance of the change through their own behaviors.


People want control and autonomy. In addition to having plenty of clarity from leadership, people also want to know they are empowered. When things change in the company, people may perceive they will lose control of the way they work, of their options or of their performance. In fact, one of the number one concerns people have about change is whether it will negatively impact their ability to get their work done and achieve results.

Control at work is associated with greater effectiveness and even improved physical wellbeing. Increase acceptance for the change by giving people back as much control as possible. For example, the new enterprise software system may be non-negotiable, but it may be possible for teams to customize its implementation. The new workplace design may be a given, but it may be possible to give people more choice about where they work throughout the day. 

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