Alter, modify, transform, revolutionize, adjust, amend, vary…what do these words all have in common? They're all synonyms for "change." Taken individually, each of these words doesn't seem particularly threatening, so why is it that our human nature naturally resists change? After all, the only thing constant is change. There's certainly been a lion's share of research done on this particular subject, and most results concur that change, if handled correctly, is a good thing.
Change, and the need to manage it well, has always been with us. Business life is punctuated by necessary and expected changes: getting a new manager, announcements of new benefits plans, or changing a routine process to improve efficiency. Each of those routine changes can be accompanied by tension, stress, squabbling, sabotage, turnover, work slowdowns, and a drain on time and money-in short, the "resistance to change" syndrome.
If even small and expected change can reek organizational havoc on a business, just imagine the disaster when an organization tries to make big changes, such as developing a new corporate culture to be effective in the knowledge economy, restructuring the business to become globally competitive, or closing divisions that are operating in the red.
As the pace of change continues to increase, mastering change becomes a vital part of every leader's job. All leaders need to know how to guide people through change so they emerge with an effective organization. One important element in this guidance is being able to analyze the reasons why people resist change. Pinpointing the source of the resistance makes it possible to see what needs to be done to avoid the resistance and convert it into commitment to change.
There are basically four stages of change: resistance, confusion, integration, and commitment. The first state of change-resistance-results from the shift from the known to the unknown. Resistance can leave a person with the feeling of inadequacy or loss of sense of competence. The resistance stage can be identified in common behaviors like negativity, stubbornness, sarcasm, and cautiousness.
The second stage is confusion. In this stage, individuals may question the decision-makers' abilities, become confused about where to focus their attention, or worry about relationship changes. Behaviors in this phase may include being uncooperative, performing erratically, refusing to be accountable, making assumptions, or grumbling and complaining.
The third stage of change is integration. In this stage, there's the beginning of renewal and optimism, refocusing on the possibilities, and rewarding competencies. Individuals will begin to accept change, act excited, take small risks, try new things, and speak positively.
The last stage of change is commitment, the ultimate goal. In this stage, individuals feel secure, productive, and part of a successful organization. They're willing to take even more risks, are self-motivated, and share a common vision.
In the next column, I'll discuss the tactics of helping employees reach the fourth stage of commitment. IBI