organizations are very resistant to change, especially in organizations where
powerful executives have their own interests and territory. How do you overcome
that? Here are four ways to make change happen:
other person’s shoes
All resistance to change is not rooted in hard-headed
self-interest. Genetics teaches us that the vast majority of “change”
called “mutations” are 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/her 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. Implementing change today
relies on building consensus rather than executive fiat.
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.
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 are 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 will spread virally and top management
will no longer be 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 to bring about change, but you’ll be surprised to find that almost
anything, whether qualitative or quantitative, can be measured if we just put
our heads to it.
change, instead of wasting energy on frustration follow this formula. In the
next couple of weeks, research a change that you want to make happen.
Anticipate all possible objections and create contingency plans for anything
that could go wrong. Put in place measurable goals to track success. Create
consensus by presenting your plan to colleagues and stakeholders. With
preparation, contingency planning, buy-in, and metrics, you’ll find that
bringing about change is far easier than you thought.
August Turak is a successful entrepreneur, corporate executive,
award winning writer and author of Business Secrets of the Trappist
Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity (Columbia
Business School Publishing; July 2013). He has been featured in the Wall
Street Journal, Fast Company, Selling Magazine, the New York
Times, and Business Week, and is a popular leadership
contributor at Forbes.com.
His website is www.augustturak.com.