It has been said that most efforts to implement change do not succeed. The most common reason falls into a large category known as “resistance to change”. In my experience, it is probably more accurate to say that change seldom turns out the way we expect. After all, each of us has experienced countless changes that affect our lives, mostly by things outside our immediate control. Yet from infancy, we seem hardwired to say “no”.
Collective change has more complexity than individual change and, the larger the number, the more complex it becomes. This observation came to mind as I sort through comments and outward reactions of people affected by changes here in Barbados and in other parts of the world. I see ongoing examples of persons being demonized by negative interpretations of motives (“they just don’t care about other people”), exaggerated predictions of dire consequences (“This will be a disaster”) and rationalizing adversarial, non-compliant behaviour (“don’t expect me to give away political advantage”). This is a small sampling of how “resistance to change” expresses itself when we are asked to pursue a common goal.
There is much talk about “implementation deficit disorder” without sufficient acknowledgement of the challenges faced by those responsible for initiating and leading change efforts. Dr. Peter Drucker, legendary management guru, once said: “There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”
Therein lies the rub. There is so much time and effort spent in unfocused study and activity planning, that fundamentals of preparation are either ignored or given short shrift. For example, here are some questions leaders should ask:
- Why is change necessary?
- Who is asking for change?
- What is specifically being requested?
- What happens if we do nothing?
- What evidence of commitment and capability exists among the requesters?
- How does the proposed change advance a widely-accepted vision or expectation?
- Who will be genuinely harmed or disadvantaged if the change is implemented?
- What effect will the proposed change have the deployment of existing resources?
- What kind of training, technology or other specialized resources must be added to our current complement?
- How will we measure success and at what intervals?
- Who will be accountable for leading the change and obtaining the intended outcomes?
While this checklist seems extensive, there are many questions that emphasize the “who”. Typically, there tends to be more emphasis on the “what” and the human side of obtaining buy-in from affected parties is neglected. Too often, the strategy or plan is presented as a fait accompli and is met with resistance, indifference and cynicism. Without asking and answering these questions, credible communications is impossible and the proposed change will languish.
Most of all, the leader must be prepared to be changed. Without an example of a leader who is personally embracing the challenges brought on by the proposed change, people will just quit when things get tough.
I close with a quote from a great change leader.
“Seven Deadly Sins
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Regardless of the difficulties and uncertainty of the journey, integrity and a genuine regard for all affected parties is a compelling beacon.