Resistance to even positive change is natural-but what if the changes being proposed are of questionable value or, worse, seem maybe to cost more than they could be worth?
In some organizations, changes that don't clearly improve a team's ability to do work will be met with rebellion. Organizations in which open rebellion won't be tolerated may find themselves with a thriving, underground resistance. Left unresolved, the change conflict can deteriorate to a destructive test of wills between change advocates and opponents, often losing sight of the costs and benefits of the proposed change itself. This can lead to collateral damage on both sides.
The tactics of the rebellion can be insidious:
- Meeting the letter, but not the spirit of the change
- Blaming all schedule slips on delays introduced by the change
- Whining about the change at every opportunity
All can undermine the authority of an organization's leaders and damage morale.
It should be apparent that this state of chaos can be counterproductive. Furthermore, the skepticism it engenders among the staff and the rift it can create between management and the troops reduce organizational effectiveness until the matter is resolved. An organization in chaos is wounded. Until the matter is resolved and the organization has time to heal, any new change is likely to re-introduce chaos and encourage the rebels to take up arms again, triggering an immune response that may be disproportionately severe. In this way, an organization subjected to ill-conceived change or more change than it is prepared to assimilate at one time becomes adept at resisting all change.
What does this mean for the well intentioned change agent who is trying to introduce new tools or processes? To be effective, he or she must act in thoughtful, measured steps:
0) Before introducing any new process or tool, check the stability of the organization. Is it currently under stress or already trying to assimilate significant change? Timing is everything if you want your changes to be effective.
1) Make sure the change has value. Consult with thought leaders in the organization and try to recruit allies. Be ready to explain why you think the proposed change is necessary or valuable, then listen to their concerns and address them if you can. If you can't sell the change to the thought leaders, the organization probably isn't ready. If you can, perhaps your allies will help advocate for the change.
2) Start small. Pilot the change whenever possible. This will give you a chance to build success or adjust the implementation if it isn't perfect without getting the whole organization involved in the first attempt. Choose your pilot group from people willing to give the change an honest try. Avoid piloting with groups who are already stressed, behind schedule, or understaffed. Remember that change is always awkward at first as people climb the learning curve. Set the pilot up for success. A successful pilot done with credible members of the organization can help reduce broader organizational resistance later.
3) Give the change time to become assimilated and routine before you introduce more change. This point is particularly important and challenging to implement for people who have been tasked with "fixing" a particular problem that will require a series of significant changes. If you try too much too fast, you are not only doomed to fail, but you will boost the organization's immune response and make future improvements all the more difficult.
What are your experiences with ill-conceived initiative to implement new processes or tools? Have you seen organizational immune systems in action?
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