We’re hardwired to resist change. We like where we are right now (even if that’s not a good place – it’s ours). I’ve been doing a lot of reading and reflecting recently on why change is hard, and what best practice might look like. That’s led to me to eight reasons why people fight change.
- It’s someone else’s choice, not yours. I remember being amazingly affected personally by one situation where I’d been wanting to leave and looking around for better, so not massively invested in where I was, but still it came as a surprise when the consultations around redundancies started. I left with a good deal but the endowment effect (we value what we have much more than what we could have) kicked in and made me value that role much more highly when someone else threatened it than when I was thinking about leaving anyway. If you’re having change imposed on you you will resist.
- Your views have been ignored. There’s a reason why “sham consultation” as a search term elicits millions of hits Even if your views weren’t ignored, but the result was still the same, because your brain tells you you’re right all the time, you’ve got the double whammy of feeling rejected and ignored. If you’ve genuinely got no choice about what you’re going to do, don’t call that consultation. The task then is to sensitively lay out the facts and not extend the pain by suggesting it’s a consultation when you’ve no intention of entering into a dialogue.
- There’s nothing in a change for you. The most universal of all questions is What’s In It for Me? Five times a second our brain is scanning for threats to our basic values – our touchstones, as it were. This is known as the SCARF model. All of us are to a greater or lesser degree fixed on measuring ourselves against five key values. These are: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. I know my key drivers are Autonomy and Fairness. I hate injustice and I’m not so good with people telling me what to do. So five times a second, every second I’m awake, my brain is checking how I’m doing on those two fronts. Am I being treated with respect, seen as a partner, an ally, or an employee told to get on with something I can’t change? Or am I being treated unfairly? I can’t switch this radar off – it’s unconscious. And it will be the same for you. David Rock came up with the SCARF model.
4) Quite often if you’v been ignored, you will know there’s something the others have missed. Because you come at a problem with a different perspective, or experience, you’ll see things others just plain won’t. But you know what happened the last time you piped up – you were painted as a nay-sayer. So you’ll keep quiet, the mistake will be made, you’ll feel a little schadenfreude but the price to your mental health will be much higher as another part of the agency you have at work is taken away from you in your mind. So if you’re running a change process, value your nay-sayers, and have the nous to not see things personally and recognise the merits in views put forward by people you don’t see as being similar to yourself. Besides, in most cases, the route to removing people from the business is so long, problematic or painful for everyone, so you might as well develop some patience and realise you can get value from dissenting voices.
5) People really really like the status quo. If you want to tamper with it, realise what you’re up against and get your patience, politicking and perseverance polished, because you’re going to need those skills, traits and attributes if you want to create lasting change.
6) People resist the change if they don’t like the person proposing it. So particularly if you’re an outsider, you need to be careful how you engage with the people around you. As tempting as it might seem to lose your patience and rant and rave, do that and you’ve lost them – even after several months of positive engagement, you’ll still lose them if you have an unguarded moment and give voice to whatever criticisms might be in your head.
7) People will resist if they don’t see a connection between your project and the bigger picture. To quote Robin Yourston, our brains are pattern-making machines and we need at an exististential level to know what we do makes sense – it contributes to a bigger goal or vision. If folk think there’s a disconnect between your project and their understanding of why they come to work, they’ll drop out.
8) People will resist if they’re being asked to do too much at once. That’s why you need small bite sized projects, and credibility-boosting successes, if you’re a new change agent, before you can get new colleagues to buy into larger change projects. Think of the smaller projects as rehearsals which practice and build up the change-making muscles in a team, as it were.
So how you do become a leader capable of overcoming these eight barriers? You need to establish trust quickly, show that you are competent, and care for the people you’re working with.