… But you still need to do it anyway! In today’s competitive environment, it is imperative to build a flexible workforce that can respond to rapidly changing labor, technology, and market conditions.

One of the ironies of change is that even positive change may be perceived as negative. When change is perceived as negative people often resist right out of the gate out of fear of the new and unknown; it makes them uncomfortable. Let’s imagine you are installing a new ERP software that will bridge multiple systems. “We’ve always done it this way!” states the chorus. For the dock worker who scans boxes to a truck, the old software worked just fine. They never felt pain of information gaps in what management long considered a “broken software system.”

Even when people perceive a change event as positive, there often comes a point in the process when they begin to doubt the change will work, and start showing signs of resistance. This happens when change becomes a major departure from expectations – meaning, you thought it was going to be like “this,” and then it turns out to be “that.”  For example, when two lovestruck people decide they are getting married they can’t contain their excitement. Who wouldn’t want “this” to last forever? Then they get married, and one person discovers that their soulmate squeezes the toothpaste from the middle and  maybe doesn’t put the toilet seat down. The feeling then becomes, “Gee, I was not expecting ‘that’!”

How can leaders address these different responses to change? By understanding three key elements: what’s coming, who’s affected, and managing the response.

What’s Coming?

What does a good nurse say to you before you get a shot? “This may hurt a little.” You know that pain is coming and brace yourself. Communicating pain to the dock worker about their role in the new software lets them know it’s coming. Same for the newlyweds when so many officiants counsel by saying, “I know this is an exciting time for your both, but you will have problems.” Be transparent about what is coming and communicate early and often. 

Communication may come in the form of large kickoff meetings, smaller departmental meetings, brainstorm sessions, daily huddle and kick-off meetings, newsletter emails, or communication boards. When the leaders of change are forthright, they will build credibility and earn trust with their teams. It is critical to involve people in the change because people rise to the challenge when it is their challenge.

Who’s Affected?

There are several roles in change: Sponsors, Advocates, Change Agents, and Targets. It’s important that everyone understands the role that they play within a change project. The message that needs to be delivered regarding the new ERP system to the Accounting Department will be different from the message delivered to the Shipping Department. People always ask, “What’s in it for me?” so we must understand what is important to each of them, what level of communication they will respond well to, and how to deliver that message accordingly.

Be aware that people may have multiple roles in the change process. While you are intending a manager to be the sustaining sponsor for the project, there’s an excellent chance that manager is also a target of the change!

Managing the Response

The key to managing negative response to change is to recognize that negative responses are okay and normal. Change is hard! Things that are worth doing are usually hard. Expecting everyone to be instantly on board is unrealistic – so you, the leader, need to be realistic by embracing this fact.

The graph below was developed by Daryl Conner and Don Kelley and represents their Emotional Cycle of Change model. It illustrates people’s emotional response to change. The X-axis represents the time or duration of the change. The Y-axis represents the level of pessimism or resistance to change someone may experience.

Learning the details and reality of the change will often induce a higher level of pessimism. At peak of pessimism, some people will even check out. Checking out comes in many forms: an associate may express their sincere concern about the coming change, they may threaten to quit, or they may just sit quietly and wait for the storm to blow over. If people do reach this level of pessimism, we want them to check out publicly – so that we, the leaders, can speak with them and address their issues.

We derive two goals for our projects from this chart:

  1. Through excellent communication, we aim to reduce the amplitude of pessimism and resistance
  2. Through effective project management, we strive to minimize the duration that people will endure the demands of the project.

When people inevitably resist change, tell them it’s okay, and invite them to talk about it. “Talking about it” is change leadership! When you create a setting where two people can ask direct questions and get honest answers, you are successfully leading the change.There will be some hard conversations and not everyone will make it to the other side. But intentional and careful change leadership will guide the organization as a whole to the desired new state.

If you need support with a change project in your organization, LogistiPoint Consulting is here to help! We’ve delivered change leadership training to Fortune 100 companies and guided them through thousands of daily change moments that constitute the fertile ground of successful change.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Change Leadership series in two weeks when we discuss the organizational pain that demands the need for change.