Change management is very often used with a wrong mindset. The company is compared with a ship. The larger the company, the slower the ship and the longer it takes to make a turn. The problem with this metaphor is that changing the course of a ship does not change the ship itself. The sailors keep their same role, the only thing that changes is the final destination. Organizations don’t work like this.
An organization is a micro-society where different people are contributing to a common goal. Changing that goal or the direction in which the organization is heading, means changing the job description for everyone in the company. Changing that goal without consultation will always result in opposition and demoralization of your employees.
Does this mean that change always has to come bottom-up in order to be supported? Yes and no. Being a boss, manager or leader doesn’t mean you can’t have good ideas anymore. But when changing everyones job, it s vital to involve the entire organisation.
Six change approaches by Kotter & Schlesinger
However good you intentions, when changing, people will always react with resistance. Kotter and Schlesinger defined 6 approaches that can help you in overcoming this resistance and get everyone pulling in the same direction:
- Education and communication: One of the best ways of avoiding resistance is by education and communication beforehand. Changes are you’ve been thinking about this change a long time already. If you’ve effectually communicated about these new goals and trained employees new skill while researching the opportunities, the change will feel and look like the logic next step, rather than an inconsistent move.
- Participation and involvement: We know more than me. Once people in your organisation know about the change you’re thinking of, let them help you in shaping that change. The best way of predicting how a certain job might change, is by asking the girl or guy that’s doing that job.
- Facilitation and support: Go first, then help your colleagues with their hurdles. Give people the time to change, to adjust, to make the new goals theirs. If this takes longer or if it’s harder than expected, take a part of the workload on you. If you don’t get there as a team, you never got there in the first place.
- Negotiation and agreement: Not everyone will agree with you. Deal with it. Negotiate the change, try going by steps, compromise.
- Manipulation and co-option: Some people are very resistent for change. Define these people and make them the first to get involved. Put them in a leading role but make sure they don’t feel tricked in that role. Make it their change as well.
- Explicit and implicit coercion: Some people will not like you changing their work. If they’re screwing it up for everyone else, use your position as a manager (force, transfer, un-promote, fire).
However scary number 6 may sound, this is the one point most managers get (and usually the only one they use). When changing, the problem is not so much the change itself, most organizations don’t have the structure for change. More on that in this post on Mechanistic versus Organic systems.