Resistance To Change Management Is A Major Obstacle To Success

You might think of Change Management as a management technical exercise, setting objectives and defining a project, while in reality it is all about the human being. The people working at your company are the ones who in the end need to embrace the change initiated by senior management. If they fail or reject to do so, any management of change endeavor will fail to succeed.

Resistance to change may be organized or individual, passive or active, timid or  aggressive, covert or overt, and on occasions totally justified. Whatever the reason, the barrier to acceptance of change is the most important hurdle to overcome.

Sadly most significant change fails to meet the expectations and targets of the proposers. The failure is given the catchall name resistance, yet resistance can be principled and creative as well as from vested interest. Senior management is frequently unreasonable in its expectations and time scale, forgetting the process it went through when it decided to make the change.

An effective change manager will prepare an organisation for change in the early stages of project definition and stakeholder review, by taking managers through a similar sales process and responding to their apparent resistance, the creative conflict. This process is likely to improve the project definition and buy in. It will also ensure that it is clear the moment resistance becomes vested interest.

An independent change manager is a cross between a foil and a lightning conductor – the foil ensuring that positive energy is deflected to the right place, the lightening conductor removing negative energy from the organisation. It is unrealistic to expect an independent change manager to tackle vested interest resistance but the change director can use his or her intervention as a signal to the organisation – such interventions should be few but telling.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, lack of acceptance, mainly because of resistance, is a key element in why change fails. A recent informal survey of 120 government transformation programs identified that 68% were unsatisfactory, a further 23% failed to achieve their objectives but were nevertheless regarded as satisfactory, and only 17% achieved their objectives. A subsequent discussion forum on identified several key reasons why change fails. The list is practically identical to one made by Kotter at Harvard 17 years ago.

They had set the strategic direction for the change and then the leaders had remained remote from the change (sometimes called Distance Transformation) leaving the actual change to less motivated people. Success has many parents; failure is an orphan. They had chosen a change methodology or approach that did not suit the business. Or worse still had piled methodology upon methodology, programme upon program. One organisation had 6 sigma, balanced scorecard and IIP methodology all at the same time. The organisation had not been clear about the reasons for the change and the overall objectives. This plays into the hands of any vested interests.

The business had ‘ram raided’ certain functions with little regard to the overall business (i.e. they had changed one part of the process and not considered the impact up or downstream) In short they had panicked and were looking for a quick win or to declare victory too soon. The leaders had not been prepared for the change of management style required to manage a changed business or one where change is the norm. Change programs fail in that they are seen as just that, programs.

The mentality of now we’re going to do change and then we’ll get back to normal causes the failure. Change as the cliche goes is a constant; so a one off program, which presumably has a start and a finish, doesn’t address the long-term change in management style. The organisation had not been prepared and the internal culture had pushed back against the change. They had failed to move from talking to action quickly enough. This leads to mixed messages and gives resistance a better opportunity to focus.

Very few organisations will manage all. However any one in isolation will make the change program inconsistent and aggravate resistance. Advance planning and stakeholder management will avoid some of these pitfalls. Furthermore the list is an invaluable diagnostic tool for identifying why (and where) resistance is taking place, giving an opportunity to defuse resistance by correcting the mistake.

Based on the above, these are the major take aways. A successful change is essential in creating a change culture. A badly thought out process and implementation will always result in resistance. Resistance can be healthy (a pearl can result). An independent change manager can bring the independence, experience, and objectivity to manage resistance. Unknown, unanticipated, unquantified, unaddressed resistance will always be dangerous.

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