Thursday, October 23, 2008

12 Strategies to reduce resistance to change

This week I am focusing on change, how people react to change, why they react the way they do, and what you can do to reduce and leverage change. I recommend that you read the previous posts on this topic: 7 Truths about people and change, and 5 sources of resistance to change before you read this post.

I hereby introduce 12 strategies for reducing resistance and clearing the way for effective change.

1. Change should not come as a surprise

Careful planning should be done before implementing change. Without a clear plan you will have no measure of influence over change. The main idea behind the plan is to have a clear goal and vision of where you want to go, what you want to become, and how you intend to accomplish it.

As with any form of planning you will need to gather information, a lot of information from lots of people and all the resources you can get your hands on.
During the process of gathering information you will be interacting with the various parties that will be affected by the coming change. By involving the people affected you will gain trust and create expectations for change.

The types of question and information you require will be unique to every situation or need for change. The questions you need answered will be your typical Who?, What?, Where?, When? and How? questions.

I suggest that you compile your list of questions and information required before you move in on those who will be affected by the change, because once you make your move the clock starts ticking, and everyone will be waiting impatiently to see the changes become reality.

2. Get people focused on the future

in order to reduce resistance to change you will need to move the change out behind the curtain and onto the stage. Encourage the people who are affected by the change to participate as partners, and reward them when they do participate or contribute.

It is very important to keep a constant focus on the future outcomes. People need to be reminded constantly about where they are heading. If there is a shift in the anticipated outcome you better not keep it to yourself. By keeping a clear view on the goal you will find that people tend to commit themselves more easily to the change and keep the process moving forward.
As the initiator of change you should ensure that you make the change every body's change.

3. It is impossible to over-communicate

It is often not the content of change that people resist as much as the process of introducing it to them. Human beings are creatures of habit. The more you expose them to the idea of change on various levels, the more likely they will be accepting to the idea of change. By surprising them with change will cause high levels of anxiety and resistance.
Communication is the main ingredient for successful change. Effective communication is required before, during and after change. If you are initiating change within an organisation you can use various channels to communicate. Examples include newsletters, noticeboards, notes on payslips, whiteboards, forums, etc.
If you decided on the communication channels you are going to use, make sure that you provide some form of feedback mechanism. By providing some feedback mechanism you will enable everyone to participate and share their concerns.

4. People are more creative than you think

Most people have the ability to create an anticipated image or expectation about what something will look like, feel like, taste like and sound like long before they have actually experienced it in reality. The human brain, as an organ located inside your skull, does not have the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not real. The images we create in our minds when are looking forward to something is much more positive than the images and emotions we experience when we are not looking forward to something. If and when you introduce change you could use this parameter to create positive expectations and help those involved to see what the change will look like once it has taken place. You will know you have succeeded when people share the same vision of the outcome, and work hard to ensure that it "looks" like it was expected.

5. The more the merrier

Whether formal or informal, you have to create a support network. Networks act as check points and anxiety relievers. You can make people feel more comfortable by expanding the support network and encourage people to use the support network.
Support comes in various forms, for example managers, co-workers, mentors and motivational coaches, support teams, etc. The more the merrier.
The support networks can also be used as points of influence to promote change.
Who advocates change in your life or organisation?
if you have a large support network you will find it much easier to sell the change to the people affected by it. The change will happen faster and more efficiently.

6. There is no harm in asking for help

You have to know the exact amount of human resources and capital you require to make and sustain the change. Asking for something and not getting it is part of the process. When you get no for an answer you should use the reasons for declined requisitions to prepare for your next requisition. There is no harm in asking for help. You may not get it, but at least you tried.

7. There is power in numbers

You will require a broad base of competitors to carry through with the change. 20% of the participants you started with will not cut it. You need a number of healthy team players, advocates, champions and friends who are unanimous with the change. Once the change gains momentum you should use the power of these people's impetus for longer or broader impact.

8. Identify the barriers and get them out of the way

It is important to always stay on top of things. Follow-up meetings should be viewed as a coaching function. The coaching process involves the identification of personal and work-related barriers, and finding ways to change and address them.
Follow-up meetings can be held on regular, scheduled intervals or when specific stages are reached in the change process.

9. Pay the price for mistakes

Change introduces risk, and where there is risk involved you will make mistakes from time to time. Fear of punishment for mistakes reduces the willingness to take the risks necessary for change to work. Just because the outcomes are not always what you expected, doesn't mean that you, or anyone else for that matter, made the wrong decisions. Failure is often a short-term "hit" for you or your company, and it will lead to long-term incentives for everyone. The only failure would be not to try new and different approaches.

10. Keep things moving forward

As explained in my previous post, change is a force that need to be applied constantly until it becomes the norm. People tend to fall back to the old way of doing something, and positive reinforcement is the force that keeps the change process going in a consistent direction.
Positive reinforcement is any form of motivation that gives recognition to someone for the progress or accomplishments achieved. Public reinforcement or awards should not be restricted to specific outcomes and achievement of goals. When you are running in a marathon, it is the reinforcement of others that convince you that you are already a winner for coming so far, that you are almost there and to keep going.

11. Keep it simple

How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at time.
Complex problems (change) require complex solutions. It is alright to introduce or face complex change. Complex changework will cause an uproar and a lot of resistance if it pushes people too far out of their comfort zones. Complex change should be accomplished a little bit at a time.

12. Be a leader, not a boss

Leadership can easily be seen as the corner stone of effective change.
There are thousands of books written on the topic of leadership, but the main leadership requirements for effective changework includes attitude, analysis and action.
Attitude towards change and innovation starts with the leaders as they set the stage and attempt to energise others. Analysis and feedback of progress toward outcomes keep people motivated and focused. When leaders take the responsibility to take action, the entire group becomes empowered and focused.

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