I recently spent some time with one of our customers who were making a change to one of their facilities. I asked him how the people were handling the change. His response was like many I’ve heard in the past. He said, “I don’t understand why people don’t want to change. I can’t figure out if they are lazy or just scared of what will happen.”
My response was very simple: “People are reluctant to change is a result of their peer groups’ ability to change.” He looked at me with a blank stare. I went on to explain further.
When a company goes several years without changing, that is the expectation that every employee has. When a company is continually changing, then continual change becomes the norm. Their peer group around them all feels the same way when change has never happened at the company. In other companies such as Google®, Microsoft®, Apple® and thousands of others who change daily, weekly, monthly and annually, change is the expectation. Change is the way they do business.
Individually, people don’t change for one of three reasons. They can either be one or all three. I will break down the three reasons so you can better understand what’s holding your staff back from accepting change.
The first reason is fear. Fear has an ability to paralyze people to not make any changes, whether it is in their personal lives or their business lives. Fear of the unknown is always an issue. The way to overcome the fear of your staff is to communicate about it. Figure out where you are and where you want to be and talk through the changes that are going to happen. People will adapt if they understand what’s happening.
I once heard a story regarding Yogi Berra. He admitted to his family that he got lost while driving the back roads to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He exclaimed, “We are lost but we’re making good time.” Rather than taking time to analyze a plan of where he was headed or ask questions along the way, he just got lost. He should have made corrections along the way. Some leaders like Yogi just keep going because they are doing just fine and figure they will get there somehow and someday.
Change the way you think and face change. You must begin fearing the status quo. Its been said that any company or department cannot be stagnant, they are heading either up or down. You need to stop and find out where you really are, and make a plan to get where you want to go. Communicate any course corrections along the way with your staff and make it an exciting adventure. Celebrate the milestones along the way with your staff which will provide your entire team a sense of achievement.
The second reason people resist change is what I call “juggling.” Most people can be so busy doing their day-to-day activities that they don’t have time to do anything new. If they are currently juggling eight balls they don’t have time to take on any more. As they orchestrate stability in those eight balls they want to make sure that nothing is going to disrupt the flow of juggling them. Rather than figuring a way to juggle 10 balls, figure out how you can give more of those balls to other people so you can juggle none of them. Being too busy simply cannot be accepted as legitimate resistance to change.
Changes should never be made to create more work for everyone, they should be made to make people, process and procedures more efficient. Understanding and communicating the changes regularly with your staff can yield tremendous results. Have a conversation with your staff and show them that the load may be more now, but when we accomplish it, this is what your life will look when we accomplish them.
Companies that fail to change will always end up on the short side of the future, for example, the Smith-Corona typewriter company. You would think that they would be the largest manufacturer of computers today since they were in the word processing business. However they thought they were in the typewriter business. Their inability to change the way they viewed themselves as a company allowed computers to put them out of business.
The third reason for resisting change is that employees feel like part of the corporate family. They like to be connected emotionally and intellectually with those they work with and don’t want to be perceived as the one who is going to rock the boat. No one wants to be the outcast around their friends and coworkers. Therefore, the company culture must adjust to show that change is good. Even when mistakes are made they are not punished, but learned from.
Too many excuses from too many people can cause everything to stay status quo. In many companies change is bad; money is flowing in and they do not want to disrupt it. However, the money could flow in at ten-fold with just a little innovation. It only takes one visionary to make huge changes.
Remember, communication is always the name of the game. Over-communicate with your staff on the changes that are going to happen so they are not surprised when they occur. Talk about change every day and let everyone know that is the way we do things around here. The status quo only means we’re slowing down long enough to die.