According to a Deloitte Consulting study, 88% of executives state that to build an “organization of the future,” they must transform their business practices. Transformation requires extensive change, which is difficult. Or is it?
In the Harvard Business Review article "Stop Using the Excuse that Organizational Change is Hard," organizational psychologist Nick Tasler writes that we’ve come to believe the trope that “change is difficult.” Tasler observes that many change initiatives do actually achieve success, but negative biases “can create a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Perhaps changes isn’t as difficult as we think it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are legitimate barriers to transformation, both personal and organizational. Consider these three factors to help you sort out your change management challenges.
Outdated change-management philosophies
Many change-management practices are rooted in philosophies that are nearly three decades old. The problem is, many of them don’t take into account today’s business realities. Many change management systems are aimed at helping organizations maneuver through a specific, large-scale change rather than dealing with myriad micro-changes that leaders and their employees continually experience. Many of the models are linear and process-oriented, with the framework of grief or loss as their conceptual underpinning.
“Modern change management theory is based on a model of destruction, whereas the change management theory that I have found actually works for individuals and organizations is based on a model of creation,” writes Dana Theus of InPower Coaching. Theus advocates for leaders to see change as an act of creation, and invite people into the change process earlier.
New York Times-bestselling author Cy Wakeman believes it’s time to move past the “stages of grief” philosophy common in many change management models. In her latest book, "No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results," Wakeman writes, “Although change can indeed be a challenge, I don’t see how it make sense to grieve the natural and inevitable changes required to make a business successful in the same way as we would a death.”
Reframing the change-management conversation
Traditional change-management models that are based on loss and driven by a select few at the top of the organization tend to frame employees as helpless casualties. When a small cadre of leaders assume the majority of responsibility for managing change, it “generates negative energy and passive participants,” writes Theus.
Wakeman concurs: "When people are allowed to remain passive it breeds contempt,” which makes employees even less likely to engage in the change.
Wakeman advocates a shift in the way we talk about coping with change. Calling change management “so 1990s,” she suggests that we move from “managing change” to developing “business readiness” in employees. In the former, leaders bear the burden of softening the blow of the changes from employees. The latter helps develop a change-ready workforce.
“To be relevant in the future, leaders need to leave change management theories in the past and focus instead on ‘readiness’ by developing employees’ future potential on a daily basis,” writes Wakeman. “Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary and neutral.”
Leaders can do this through daily “downloads” of easy-to-digest information that create a workforce that’s ready for what’s next. They don’t shield people from reality, or invest excessive amounts of time with work arounds so that people will be more comfortable with the change.
Resilience as a key competency for change readiness
The key to being ready for whatever your workday brings is resilience.
Dean Becker is managing director of Adaptiv Learning, a company that provides resilience training. Becker has studied resilience for nearly two decades. Resilience is about “bouncing back” says Becker. Beyond that, it’s also about staying focused when there is ambiguity or oncoming change in your work situation. Speaking at the WorkHuman conference, Becker defined resilience as “the intelligent deployment of limited resources.”
“Most of us have wasted precious time and resources trying to solve problems over which we have little or no control,” says Becker.
Leaders and employees alike need to learn to put their resources where they’re likely to do the most good. But we’re often tripped up by what Becker terms our “habitual patterns of thought” -- some of which lead to unproductive thinking. This dwelling in what “should” happen, or what’s “not fair” leads to what Wakeman calls “emotional waste”: mentally wasteful thought processes or unproductive behavior that keeps leaders or their teams from delivering the highest level of results.
Both Becker and Wakeman say that we can learn to redirect these unproductive thought patterns. Wakeman encourages leaders to give brief, targeted feedback, then encourage employees to reflect on their past actions and focus on the reality of their current situation.
Becker adds, “We all have habitual patterns of thought -- about ourselves, our world, our future -- that can interfere with our ability to accurately assess problems and find solutions.” With practice retraining our thinking, we can make better choices, he says.
Moving through change is a challenge but one worth attempting. As Tasler observes, “Change is hard in the same way that it’s hard to finish a marathon. Yes, it requires significant effort. But the fact that it requires effort doesn’t negate the fact that most people who commit to a change initiative will eventually succeed.”
Think about the changes you’ll ask of your team over the course of the next few months. How can you rethink your change management practices to help your team become more change-ready?
Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”