Change is Hard, So How do you Make it Easier?

Change is pervasive in our society. It is a fact of life in any organization. This constancy of change in organizations is why it has been studied time again by experts such B. Goodfellow. In 1985 he explored change within organizations in the seminal work, The Evolution and Management of Change in Large Organizations from the Army Organizational Effectiveness Journal.

Effective leaders recognize that change is part of continuous improvement. Change is often essential for your organization’s vitality, prosperity and growth. You know that to be more customer-centric, more competitive, and more effective you need to update your processes, send your team to training, and implement new systems and tools. You are also aware that sometimes you need to add personnel to support the operationalization.  At the same time, you recognize your employees find change unsettling. Why? One reason is that change is hard. It can be grueling. However, there are actions you can take to make change manageable and palatable.

Why is Change So Hard to Accept?

This can be a complicated issue to address as it is often multi-faceted. Often though, change adoption issues are related to normal acclamation challenges. Experts identify three common obstacles to change:

  1. Sense of paralysis. Sometimes the effort required to change seems so daunting that teams don’t know where to start.  So they don’t start at all.
  2. Existing heavy workload. Given current activities and responsibilities, employees may find thought of taking on more simply too much.
  3. Lack of confidence. Occasionally, the work required to change is outside an employee’s comfort zone.

If you’ve ever implemented change within an organization, then these reactions should come as no surprise.  The question remains, “What can you do to overcome these situations?” 

You Need to Understand the Psychology of Change

The first step to overcoming resistance to change is understanding the psychology behind a reaction. In our list, the first two reactions are a result of what is sometimes referred to as Paralyzed Productivity, which stems from feeling overwhelmed. When people become overwhelmed, they tend to delay finishing projects in fear of doing something incorrectly.

This reaction becomes especially apparent in times of tumultuous change. Therefore, as a leader, it is your job to reduce the sense of overwhelming obligation that can occur. Instead, work to establish steps that will help your organization learn to manage for change.

When you ask your team to do something differently from what they are accustomed to you need to help them prepare. Often organizations will underestimate the herculean effort that is required to change.  Don’t expect them to solve all the unexpected issues that will surface.  Naturally, people will gravitate towards a solution that seems fast and easy. This option, however, is rarely effective and typically derived from the very things you want to change.

Author Dallas Willard tells us that to surmount the obstacles that are littered on the path to change and be successful it takes three elements: vision, method, and will. Only then, once you have designed your roadmap that incorporates these three key elements, can you begin to execute your plan.

Effective Execution Comes with Clear Communication

To carry out a plan that incorporates the three necessary elements of change, John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School and world-renowned change expert introduced an eight-step process.  In “Leading Change”, Kotter posits that without a sensible vision, change efforts can dissolve into a list of confusing projects that take the organization in the wrong direction. To avoid this, Kotter emphasizes that is important that your vision be easy to communicate. 

This is especially true for your marketing teams when they are adopting your request to address and improve performance measurement.  As the CEO it is paramount that you help your CMO create a sense of urgency for change. For an adjustment to be successful, you must be able to communicate your vision, remove obstacles, create short-term wins, and anchor the change in the organization’s culture.

Once you can provide this clarity, then you team will become mobilized and incentivized to change. They will also be inspired to eschew a state of paralyzed productivity in favor of integrating an organizational change into their daily behaviors and workflows.

In her book, Execution is the Strategy, Laura Stack offers seven tips for overcoming paralyzed productivity and encouraging change:

  1. Reject perfectionism.
  2. Accept the possibility of failure.
  3. The simplest solution is probably the best.
  4. Follow your core values.
  5. Focus on getting started.
  6. Establish milestones and a drop-dead deadline.
  7. Listen to both head and heart.

People who study workload paralysis suggest honing in on only two of these tips to begin making headway. By taking a small step you will be able to gain a manageable momentum and focus your efforts.

Change Management Doesn’t End With Mastery

As your teams within your organization improve and master a new process, their confidence and productivity will increase. This is not an indication that you can stop managing change. Change management is a critical component of any organizational change and one that should be constantly monitored. Employ these three steps as an integral part of any change management plan.

  1. Study up. Share articles and books written by experts on the subject. Create opportunities for everyone to discuss what and how to use what they learned. Help them step up and lead the process.
  2. Choose an instructor. In any discipline, coaches and guides are instrumental to skills development and help you avoid pitfalls and obstacles. Identify your early enthusiasts and encourage them to be the change ambassadors to the team.
  3. Take baby steps. Look for or create quick wins that have meaningful business results first. Then pursue more complex maneuvers.

Change is unavoidable. These steps will keep your team from becoming overwhelmed by it. Immerse them and yourself in the process. Create a vision that can be realized.  Work with others to create a methodology that is accessible to everyone. Use your willpower and influence to continue to drive the change. By developing an achievable plan, building confidence, and staying focused, you will be able to lessen internal angst and motivate adoption.