The perennial subject of change keeps raising its head in mentoring sessions with members of my Vistage CEO peer group.
The overwhelming questions that continue to surprise are: Why do people seem to fear change so much? Why do they see it as a threat and not a potentially exciting opportunity?
Any negative reaction to change has a mutually dampening effect on management who think that it is great idea and much of the rest who immediately think that their jobs are at risk.
Dr Steve Peters, author of The Chimp Paradox says that the negative reaction is the "chimp" brain perceiving danger and going into Fight, Flight or Freeze mode.
These are perfectly normal reactions to a perceived danger but the question must be asked: "What in our communicating this change, still does not seem to mollify the people?"
The fact is that in any go-ahead business in a period of growth after recession will be initiating and implementing change throughout the business as a matter of course.
It has to be accepted that the dark years after 2009 have left a legacy of concern that change was more than likely to imply danger or a threat to the normal run of events.
Getting over that legacy is a major contributor to the need for the maximisation of engagement and involvement of everyone in the enterprise.
Tom Peters, that wise sage, said recently that excellent businesses do not believe in excellence, only in constant improvement and constant change.
Please note the use of the words "improvement" and "change" in the same sentence.
The fact is that foresighted leadership implies a consistent ability to see where sensible change can lead to improved performance so why not change?
In the same way that people resent having to achieve other people's objectives that have been imposed on them, so they immediately see danger in a process if change that they don't necessarily understand.
What then is the solution to this problem? Management sees change as vital to the improved performance of the business but doesn’t communicate the need effectively.
There is no doubt that the more people are involved in the design of the change process, the more likely they are to subscribe to its success.
Please note: thus does not mean incentives, especially financial ones, but rather an involvement of people at all stages of the process so that what is being suggested is owned by everyone.
This may seem to mean a tortuous process of consultation but if it is designed properly it will speed the process of acceptance at all stages.
If people are involved in the process then they will feel the ownership and are more likely to ensure successful achievement.
Psychologist Frederick Herzberg said that factors such as involvement, achievement, responsibility and recognition are all positive motivators.
Demonstration by the leadership that the people are trusted to understand the problem and then to put forward valid solutions is a powerful motivator.
There is a route to the successful implementation if change in an organisation. It starts with an understanding that changes at whatever level and for whatever reason would improve performance to everyone’s benefit.
Follow that with discussions at all levels to solicit the thoughts and opinions of those likely to be most affected by any change.
Remember that the operator on the shop floor is more than likely to perceive a need for change simply because he/she is close to the action while management is not.
In fact proper use of that old chestnut, the Suggestion Box, can bring out all sorts of great ideas.
While that will not necessarily get over the occasional need for change to be imposed due to circumstance, it will contribute greatly to the general acceptance and hence the smooth implementation of change.
It leads to those most desirable of outcomes, renewal and regeneration, both of which are born out of mutual trust and a realisation that change is not to be feared but rather embraced, accepted and enthusiastically implemented.
"How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?
None, don't worry about me darling, I don't mind sitting in the dark."
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