August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

4 Steps to Make Change Happen: Overcoming Resistance to Change

The main reason why transformation fails is because organizations are very resistant to change, especially in organizations where powerful executives have their own interests and territory. How do you overcome that?
  1. Try to be compassionate - Put yourself in the other persons shoes;
  2. Have a plan for getting initial buy-in (include contingencies);
  3. Minimize your risks;
  4. Measure results with hard data.
First of all we try to be compassionate. All resistance to change is not rooted in hard-headedness and vested self-interest. Genetics teaches that the vast majority of “change” called “mutations” is actually harmful to the organism. Only a tiny few lead to evolutionary breakthroughs. We are all genetically programmed to be conservative as a result. Historically, the vast majority of political and social change led to chaos not utopia. My company sold software and resistance to change was our biggest objection. If the new software implementation went off without a hitch no one cared or noticed. But if it crashed the organization, heads rolled. Our clients’ resistance to change was not irrational and it was up to us, not our clients, to manage it. There is a lot of wisdom in the old adage that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM” —or Microsoft or Google. First of all, put yourself in the other guy’s shoes and realize that the risks involved are real. It may very well be his job, not yours, that is on the line if your transformation goes awry.

Also compassionately remember that executives may not have all the power you give them credit for. The days of telling people to jump and having them say “how high?” are gone. As my company grew, we kept moving into bigger offices. At first and without exception our people HATED their “transformation” into a new office. Every transformation has its “desert” stage where like latter day Israelites everyone is unhappy and complaining to Moses that “things weren’t so bad back in Egypt.” We are ALL resistant to change, and in today’s world it is usually Moses who gets fired when he tries to force change on subordinates without consensus. Even with initial consensus people often later turn fickle.

Make sure your proposal takes into account all these legitimate concerns and potential dangers surrounding change. Make sure you have a plan for getting everyone affected by the change on board including a contingency for what you’ll do if people turn against you later on. This will show your client that you are thinking like a business person and not a consultant.

The next step is to minimize these risks. Think of all those cleaning solutions that recommend that you try them out on some inconspicuous swath of fabric first. Find some “out of the way” department or project to experiment on where the variables are controllable, the investment is minimal, and results easily measured. Let the success of your little experiment become contagious. Others will start saying: “Who are those guys? How can we get results like that?” Soon your experiment is spreading virally and top management is no longer risking a revolution, but responding to a bottom up groundswell backed by hard data.

This final point about hard data is critical. If you can’t or won’t measure results don’t expect sympathy from me or any line manager. I don’t care how theoretically “worthwhile” your transformation is, you must link your efforts to the mission of the company and that means, whenever possible, financially. If you can’t measure results then you probably shouldn’t try, but you’ll be surprised to find that almost anything, whether qualitative or quantitative, can be measured if we put our heads to it.

What do I do?

In the next couple of weeks, research a change that you want to make happen. Anticipate all possible objections to the idea and plan out contingency plans for anything that could go wrong and measurable goals to track success. Go to your boss with ideas already planned out and ask to present it to your other colleagues.

Tell us your story. How have you or someone you know been able to cause change in a job, community, or family?