The More Things Change... Managing the Human Element of Change
by Barbara M. Spiegelman
Believe it or not, when it comes to managing change, the technology is the easy part. I see you there, cringing at your desk. Perhaps you're moving to a new operating system. Upgrading all of your PCs. Migrating to a client-server environment. Installing a new ILS. Initiating a Web site. To your left are stacks of vendor literature announcing new products, new gateways and new interfaces. To your right are stacks of internal documents announcing the new systems your organization wants you to put in place in the next six weeks.
The hard part is dealing with the human element, not the technological one. If you doubt the truth of this, think how often you have said to yourself, "This job would be easy if it weren't for the people."
If you told your management that you were going to migrate to a new integrated database system, they would not question the time you took in identifying technical specifications and interviewing vendors. You would not feel a moment's hesitation in taking the time to visit a colleague who has the system in place, or to run a pilot to ensure that the technology will work with your architecture. But if you planned the same amount of time to prepare for the human side of change, your manager might question the pace of the project, and you would feel as if you should have done it all faster and with less effort.
We need to rethink this equation. We need to prioritize our time and energy to anticipate and prepare for the inevitable resistance to the changes we're making. We must develop strategies that will help us manage that resistance to ensure a successful outcome of the change.
Human beings are creatures of habit. Left to our own devices, some of us would initiate change, but most of us would prefer to retain the status quo. Not because we're lazy or stubborn, but because we're human. The status quo is a known entity, and we like it that way. Most of us don't deal well with the unknown. The unknown is scary, it makes us feel out of control, insecure, and generally as if we would like to go to bed, pull the covers up over our head, and stick our thumb in our mouth.
And while you may not be seeing many employees literally walking around with their thumbs in their mouths, you are probably seeing them do so figuratively. In their effort to hang on to the status quo, and retain some feeling of control, employees will resist change in a variety of ways. What does this behavior look like, and what should you do to manage it?
Covert resistance, on the other hand, will probably be camouflaged by so many layers of masking behavior that you wonder if you're losing your mind. You outline the project. You involve the staff in the design. You communicate the objective often. You plan like crazy. You make your expectations clear. You provide all of the resources needed to optimize the change. But as you work harder and harder, nothing changes...
What's going on? The resistance has gone undergroundand it's your job to excavate. Don't know where to dig? Start by looking for lip service or analysis paralysis.
Left to our own devices,
Procrastination and featherbedding are classic examples. In the first, the employee assures you that the project is the next item on their to-do list. And the next time you check, although they've accomplished 10 tasks in between, it is still the next item on their to-do list. In featherbedding, you may actually see the project start, but the work is accomplished at the slowest possible speed, so that a project that should have been completed in three months is still being worked on a year later. The assumption here is that you will eventually tire of pushing for the change, and it will all just go away. Welcome back, status quo!
Analysis paralysis is different. In fact, it's hard to tell whether this particular malady is resistance at all. It appears to be a genuine effort to ensure that the project/software/system is done exactly right. The person tasked with choosing the new ILS, for example, creates a detailed technical specification. They begin looking at systems. And they look. And they look. And they look some more. When questioned, they will respond with the completely accurate statement that "a new system has just come out." In the current information technology environment, this task will never be completed, because there will always be one more system to analyze. Identify a date for a decisionand enforce it.
Remember that line as you walk the walk of a change agent. You will have good days and bad ones. At times the change will seem effortless, and at times impossible. There will be days when you want to give up and let the status quo reign. On days when you are tempted to give in to the forces of resistance, lock yourself in a room and call a friend, a mentor, your manager, or call me. You aren't alone out there. In an industry that is changing daily, we must all get very good at this, and we must do it together.
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