Thursday, November 12, 2015

How to Handle Change Inertia with Empathy

Look at resistance as a source of energy and where there is energy there is still passion and potential.

Change is the new normal, but it also becomes fundamentally difficult in most organizations due to the change inertia, also because it is treated as something distinct from running the business, evolving performance and increasing results over time. Statistically, more than 70% of the change management effort fails to achieve the expected result. So, which principles should you follow to communicate changes and transformation is dimensionally bigger, and much more pervasive/ invasive, how to weave all important elements in Change Management more seamlessly to orchestrate a harmonized digital transformation symphony?

Analysis: The golden key is to acknowledge the resistance and deal with it properly. There is nothing wrong with resistance. On the contrary, it is a good sign! By saying, "it is ok to feel resistance," the resistance will go down significantly because people feel that they are being heard/seen. People often resist changing because they don't understand how it is relevant to them. Sometimes it helps to get people talking about the positive change they have experienced and what made it positive then, how they can use that to make small transformations towards the new goals. There are two types of resistance: overt - outspoken, and covert - hidden disagree. The symptom of resistance include active attack, propose alternatives, debate approaches, list issues or problems, create reasons to postpone, request further information, delay approval. The resistant attitude includes passive, lip service, foot-dragging, lack of engagement, no participation, no show to meetings, not responsive, silence. Resistance is usually from the three areas of; in your thinking -doubt/uncertainty, feeling -resentment/hatred or action life-Fear. Often these also determine workplace cultures as well as change challenges, passive aggressive or defensive. Resistance is mostly about not engaging at the right time with the right people to have the right communication.

Empathy: Look at the change in a way that addresses empathy. Resistance is the outcome of an inward mindset. Empathy is the key as it allows each person to get where the other person may be at. What they are experiencing and how they see it through their eyes. Empathy is not sympathy and this will need to be confirmed. As Leaders, Empathy is the key to great leadership allowing you to speak to a person from the space they stand not where you think they should be. Let them know you are going to help them learn how to be curious! There will always be some resistors even where the change program has been well planned and is fully consistent with the organization's business drivers. People typically don't resist for the sake of it. It may be due to fear of the unknown, lack of faith that they will be successful in the new future state. So take logical steps to:
-Identify the stakeholder and their needs
-Understand the change impact and what is important to them (what fears or concerns they would have in changing) and then
-Developing a plan to ensure they will be successful.

Support: People’s feelings need to be addressed. Alternatively, there are also situations when resisters DO understand the relevance, but they don't like the implications. The question then becomes one of: "how well do we understand the individual, their goals, and how the change will affect them?" This usually requires a dialogue to answer their questions and address its relevancy. They may well have valid concerns, but if you fail to understand those concerns and address them the 'resisters' will continue to resist change. Addressing the concerns doesn't necessarily mean altering, postponing or canceling the change, it often means explaining the rationale and may mean difficult decisions. For example, if the organization has made and remains committed to the change, the resisting individuals will have to decide whether to accept it (even if they don't like it) or to find a more amenable solution. People rarely develop feelings based on what they THINK, rather, they develop opinions based on how they FEEL, disguising their feelings as rational arguments or rationalizations. Sometimes those resisting changes do not understand the real reasons themselves. Emotional responses indicate a disparity between what people think and what they feel are at least two separate questions we all face: what to change? And how to change? When people feel like something is being "done" to them it gets personalized and the resistance increases. When "bottoms" experience decision-makers empathetically acknowledging the impact of change and the sense of powerlessness that "bottoms" feel in the process, they remove one of the most significant contributors to an individual's resistance - the pain of not being heard/understood.
-People’s feelings need to be addressed:
-Fears have to be dealt with realistically
-Everybody has needs that have to be met
-Expectations need to be managed
-Loss is part of the change and needs to be understood
-People react differently to change

Process: Exploring why they are resistant might uncover some aspects of the change process that have been poorly designed or overlooked. It might then be possible to enlist their help in finding out how things might be done better. Even better: getting resistant people involved in the design process can help to design out flaws in the early stages. Of course not all resistance is logical or rooted in a constructive analysis of the change, but equally, it is almost never 'just being a saboteur.' Investigating the root causes and looking for the nuggets of gold may well be a valuable exercise for all. At a practical level, a traditional stakeholder analysis map is useful - degree of 'Influence/Power' on one axis and 'Degree of Commitment' on the other, and marking where to locate stakeholders. Those with 'High Influence/Low Commitment' being the ones to be most concerned about, where you need to concentrate your efforts. Those with 'Low Influence/Low Commitment' - in a well planned and communicated change program - should be few in number and tolerable.

Practices: Build practices to overcome cultural inertia. All change is dependent on the individual’s capacity to change and the language used during a change initiative provides clues to diagnose and act upon resistance and support. There is a definite connection between psychology and brain physiology in humans that makes change difficult for many people. Perhaps one key would be to do a white space exercise whereby the team members practice clearing their minds of distracting thoughts to allow the value and purpose of the change to sink in. This assumes of course that the proper research and organizational feedback has been done to vet the change strategy in the first place. It’s also important to build in objective fault tolerance to allow for a certain amount of dissension. The key is to enlist the dissenters to provide input during the process to maintain engagement. To help them identify AND CHOOSE what to change and there are clearly many options. There are excellent workshops that encourage reflection on current habits/attitudes/expectations/ beliefs/ comfort zones, or if in 1-1 coaching mode Kinesiological techniques can put them in touch with their unfulfilled un/subconscious aspirations. It takes people to engage with something that is being pushed at them, and then you are talking about increasing commitment rather than overcoming resistance.

Look at resistance as a source of energy and where there is energy there is still passion and potential. Much more dangerous is the disengaged. As change leaders, it is about finding what motivates them to change and if they resist, either possibly change strategy is misdirected or you haven't found the right way to get people to want to be involved, remembering too that in many cases people have had a very poor experience of workplace change. You have to create a positive experience for them and this builds a more open culture where change becomes much better regarded.


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