It’s no secret that many of us are uncomfortable with change. It’s new. It’s scary. And things were fine before all of this.
One of life’s great paradoxes is the longer we work in a career, an organization, or an industry, the more comfortable we become with existing processes, while we simultaneously become more resistant to change. It makes sense, really. At one point, our current processes were new and different and scary, but not now. Now the hard work has already been done and what was once unfamiliar, is now the status quo.
We’ve Always Done It This Way
So why bother changing at all? Afterall, we’ve always done it this way. Sound familiar?
For starters, sometimes change is necessary and obvious. Sometimes market forces or the economy dial up the pain and make us suddenly aware of the need for a new solution. Such scenarios make change more palatable, though perhaps still painful.
But what about other types of change? What about the times where our way of doing things still works? Sure, maybe it’s not as shiny and sleek as the new thing, but it’s worked this way for years. Besides, things haven’t really changed that much, have they?
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. In every organization there is a pattern of identifying problems, designing solutions, and implementing new processes. This pattern plays out time and time again over the course of years. Sometimes processes get dialed in and so well established that “we’ve always done it this way” becomes a badge of honor.
The story is told of a mother teaching her daughter how to cook a ham. One of the steps was to cut off each edge of the ham before placing it in the pan to bake. When the daughter asked her mother why they did this, her mother paused and realized she didn’t really know. This was how her mother taught her when she was young and she’d simply always done it this way. A quick phone call to grandma revealed the answer: her baking pan wasn’t big enough, so she always trimmed the ham down to fit into her pan. Grandma’s small pan created a problem, the solution for which was repeated for a generation past its useful life.
Effectiveness First, Then Efficiency
Peter Drucker famously quipped “there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” In other words, the world is complex, and variables change. A solution that worked in the past is not guaranteed to work in the future. Resistance to change might not be helping you or your organization.
It can be all too common to see good, talented people in almost every organization become suddenly rigid to new ideas, dig in their heels, and throw up obstacles in the path of change. They continue to optimize for efficiency when effectiveness has peaked.
In short, some team members are simply unaware there is a more effective solution. They may concede the new tech-enabled solution is more efficient, but until they become aware of the increased effectiveness, they will fail to see the need for a change.
Without seeing the why, and convinced of the sufficiency of their current solution, they’ll resort to improving efficiency of a less effective process. Helping raise their level of awareness to see how the new solution solves better, not just faster or easier, can help them loosen their grip and let go of the old process. Effectiveness first, then efficiency.
Helping Teams Overcome Resistance to Change
How do we overcome resistance to change, even among our best employees?
Step one is communicating the why. Most change implementation fails because people don’t understand why it’s necessary. They can get the job done the old way and may not see what those proposing the changes can see. Communication helps. Overcommunication helps more. Leaders need to proactively prepare employees for change by openly communicating not just the WHAT of the change, but WHY the change is needed.
Sometimes the team needs to hear the WHY seven times before they hear it the first time. Leaders need to make sure everyone on the team clearly understands why the change is needed and what their role will be in helping it succeed.
Step two is championing the change. Attempts to change lose momentum because they constantly encounter friction. Teams that successfully implement change have leaders that intentionally champion change. They continue to communicate why the change is needed and make sure every employee understands how important their role is in helping it succeed.
Change champions don’t have to have a certain title. Some of the best champions of change come from leaders without a formal title. These valuable people see the opportunity created with the new change, and set aside their concerns, roll up their sleeves, and help move the project forward.
If your organization has tried to implement a change, consider the role you’ve played in either helping or hindering that change. Perhaps your concerns or hesitancy were warranted. Perhaps the why was lost in the messaging. And perhaps these prior experience can help you be the change champion your organization needs. Afterall, now you know where the rocks are and you can help prevent others from crashing into them.