I am presently preparing for a conference presentation I have this fall. The subject we will be discussing is Leading Through Transition. As I prepare I am reviewing my experience with changes within my organizations, and have realized we all must deal with some ever-present resistance.
It is interesting that when change comes to a group, some people have such difficulty that they can throw off the whole process. These people often want the very best for the organization, and when discussing it logically they agree that change is needed. But, when it comes time to embrace doing things differently, something inside them puts on the brakes. Leaders often bemoan these naysayers, as the downfall of all their plans. They are called obstacles, and even obstructionists. I believe that’s a mistake. These people often love our organizations as much as we do, and have dreams for success that are just as big as ours. They just struggle with change. Once the change happens they will often come to like it, and defend the new ways as ardently as they did the old. I am convinced that there is nothing we as leaders can do to ensure this never happens to us, but we can create an environment that makes it easier for these people to come along with the change. We leaders need to understand where this resistance comes from. Why do people resist change? Here are a few thoughts about what drives resistance to change.
- The rank and file, don’t trust leadership. They may feel at some time they were led to changes that they neither understood or agreed with. Reasons were not clearly communicated, and their questions were treated dismissively. Lack of communication is the biggest source of this mistrust.
- They worry about “what if things get worse before they get better?” Will they lose their job, position, or ministry. Will their “place” in the organization be given to someone else? Our communication needs to paint a complete picture of what the expected outcomes will be like from the people’s perspective.
- Is the cost of change worth the potential benefits? All change costs something. We need to share those costs honestly, and compare those costs to reasonably expected benefits.
- Some people fear they cannot contribute either in the change process, or in the new environment after the change. They need assured that their abilities have a place in the organization, and in its process towards growth.
- Sometimes when an organization changes, the heart of what it is about changes as well. If that is not the intent, leaders need to make safeguards to help everyone keep “the main thing”, the “main thing” (whatever that is for your group). If part of the change is to change the focus of your organization… Communicate that intent clearly!
I believe to avoid some (never all) resistance to change we leaders need to:
Communicate: In writing; in group discussions; in brainstorming sessions (some include people at the “lowest level” of the organization); and individually with as many people as possible.
Listen: for questions that have been answered in their presence before (this signals a disconnect); for ideas that can improve the process or the outcome; statements of fear, disappointment, or divisiveness.
Then… Communicate some more. Bring people along, don’t belittle them, show frustration, or make them feel stupid or adversarial. If we do… they become our adversaries!
Change does happen, intentional change can happen, and resistance will be present. By holding these truths together, we leaders can discover a fairly smooth path forward for everyone in our organizations.
Tim Wenzig M.A.