Change Management 101
Change Management 101
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Understanding Resistance to Change by John Antos

Before anyone starts any type of change management program, whether it be:

it is extremely important to understand those factors that interfere with change management and determine priorities in addressing these factors before, during, and after the change occurs..

Fear Loss of Their Job

The most obvious factor that interferes with change management is people fear that they may lose their jobs. They don't care that long term the organization will survive and prosper. They are concerned about feeding their families, paying the mortgage, sending their children to college, and saving for retirement. Employees resist change when they fear they may lose their jobs

In a similar thought process, employees fear any change in technology, process, and/or system that will make them worth less to their organization. Managers and executives resist any change that affects their job and/or affects whether they will get promoted.

Some people and groups may resist all forms of change especially if it involves technological progress. As one executive of a $2 billion revenue organization said, the old way has worked for 25 years so why would I want to change. Meanwhile, a forward looking union president said to his union members even though our company is laying off 36,000 people, if we improve our processes we will get more of the work from plants that are being closed. His plant eventually hire 900 people while the company laid off 36,000 people.

Change Means Learning and Discomfort

Resistance to change often occurs because some employees don't want to learn a new way of performing their processes. They prefer the status quo. They don't like the discomfort that comes with learning new equipment, new software, and designing new processes. Change they think will make their life more challenging even if they get to keep their job.

Change may give employees more, less, or different responsibility. Change causes the fear of the unknown. For many employees who have done a job for several years or even several months, they can almost do their job with their eyes close or at least partially shut.

Employees may have to move to a different workstation, different building, and/or a different city. This can result in a longer commute, not able to drop off or pick up their children at school, selling their home, etc. .

All of this change interferes with their daily habits of who they:

  • have coffee with

  • exercise with

  • report to

  • commute with

Change often requires mental activity that many people would prefer not to exercise. It takes effort to learn which can be exhausting. Change causes people to be insecure and can lead to escape mechanisms like alcohol and drugs.

Outcomes Are Not Clear

Change causes outcomes that may not be clear or may not be anticipated even if the outcome is better for the organization and the employee. Sometimes changes can give a person a better job, but sometimes it can cause a downgrade in title as well as pay. Studies show that most people prefer certainty over unclear outcomes even when the unclear outcomes can likely result in better pay and/or work environment.

Change management often does not provide enough factual information. Unless a person gets sufficient factual information, they usually fear the worse. Even when provided with factual information, they often chose to interrupt change in a negative way. A large Fortune 500 company talked about implementing Activity Based Costing. The Vice President of HR and CFO told everyone that no one would lose their job. As one manager was walking out he told another manager that he was going to sell his home because he was going to lose his job. This was said even though he was told no one would lose their jobs. He chose to interrupt what was said in a very negative way.

Unclear outcomes caused by missing information can be addressed by answering questions as factually and completely as possible. Answers of "we don't know" are acceptable as long as this is a correct answer and not just to cover up the real answer.

No one can predict the outcome for sure. Executives can only provide their best estimate of what the world will be like after the change. Even if I understand the change, employees still don't know how they will respond to that change.

Change Can Have Unintended Consequences

An organization can create change only to find out that change causes unintended consequences. An insurance company decided they wanted their call center to obtain claims information within six minutes. The call center people closed the claims call in six minutes whether or not they obtained all the information and whether or not they obtained correct phone numbers, addresses, insurance number. This change of a new performance measure for the call center employees causes higher paid claims department employees to have to call back a customer who became angry that they were being bothered. The customers felt the call center people should have obtained all the correct information on the first call. So change management requires that change managers be aware of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Small changes (make people pay for their own coffee) may make people think the company is going bankrupt or the company does not care about its employees. Change management requires testing out the changes with those that will be affected by the change to at least understand change management issues that need to be addressed and/or not make certain changes that may seem very logical.

Interfering with Personal and Reporting Relationships

Employees develop relationships with their co-workers. In some cases these relationships are like those bonds formed when people are in the armed services, a fraternity, or a church. They like and enjoy their co-workers. Their co-workers make their job bearable. A change may be a threat to these social interactions.

Change may also affect their prestige in an organization. They fear they will no longer be respected.

Sometimes change can add or take away responsibility. An executive no longer has an administrative assistant and must do some of the tasks formerly done by the administrative person. Or now they have to share an administrative person or use a administrative staff pool. The perception is executives are no held in high esteem or they have to perform menial tasks that take away from why they were hire.

Some changes will delay getting things done. Some changes will speed up the process but cause more work for the employee. Again the unknown causes concern.

Executives, Managers, and Supervisors gets to know those that report to them. They enjoy working with their direct reports. Their direct reports get to know their bosses and learn to second guess what their bosses will need. These direct reports provide a great service to their bosses and give their bosses peace of mind that their processes will be performed correctly. Change can disrupt processes.

People who report to a certain boss learn their individual quirks whether they are good or bad. A boss may interrupt but that is OK. My boss appreciate me even thought he or she does not say so. My boss never handles details but depends on me to handle those details.

  • What will the new process be?

  • What will the new boss be like?

  • How will I have to change?

Will There Be More or Less Control

The management structure of many organizations is getting flatter. In the US, the average manager has 7-8 direct reports. In Japan, the average manager has 100 direct reports. This flatter management structure is possible since more employees have access to more information. This change in access to more information means there is less need for supervision.  Although in some cases, change results in more supervision, most change today results in less supervision.

Change instituted by staff employees rather than operational employees can cause great resistance. Some operational employees feel that the only knowledgeable employees about their processes are operational employees. They start with a preconditioned response that whatever changes staff suggest can not be credible. They often feel that staff suggest change just to promote themselves rather than because the changes will result in improvement.

Resistance to change can occur when any group feels they are the experts. Thus in these situations, change will only occur if the experts are part of the solution rather than some outside department telling them what a better solution is.

The most successful organizations have Continuous Improvement By letting everyone know that change management is a continuous process. That everyone is expected to continuously improve, then change becomes a way of life. Change is no longer something that occurs every so many years, but is something that occurs daily, monthly, and quarterly. This continuous improvement process demystifies change and makes it easier to accept.

Organizations need to have a Process Manager who is responsible for change for a particular process. Part of that responsibility includes a Continuous Process Improvement Program. This continuous process improvement becomes a way of life rather than something to fear. If you try a number of new restaurants, you learn that you like some better than others, but you look forward to the new foods or new ways of preparing traditional foods. If you don't like something, that is part of the experience. Likewise, change becomes something that makes life more interesting, rather than something to be feared.

Union Can Support Change or Interfere With Change

Unions have learned that they must support change in order to grow the companies for which their members work. some unions have lost tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of members. This is not good.

This does not mean that unions will support every change. Unions are more like to support changes that their members are involved with creating. Unions are more likely to support changes where they see the union as well as the members and the company will benefit. Unions need to be involved and treated with respect.

So whether a company is buying new types of equipment or changing a process the company must involve the union. The company must ask the union for suggestions in order to avoid a grievance. They must consider any impact on wages and the union workers.


Automation of equipment, computers or processes requires learning new skills. Although automation may speed up a process, it can also speed up the time required to fix a problem. If you invest in stocks and mutual funds from your computer you learn very quickly that by the time you push the submit button and check the status of your order that order is usually executed. There is no time to call your stock broker and say you changed your mind, because the order is executed. Likewise with wire transfers to your vendors or production equipment employees have almost no time to react if an error is made.  Correcting such errors can take a great deal of time.

So it is important for the purpose of change management that the manager in charge of change understand this effect of automation. They need to understand that safe guards may need to be put in place. For example when you buy and sell stocks on the internet, your program usually says something to the effect "Are you sure?" before it submits the order. Likewise some automated equipment requires both hands be placed on a safety switch to make sure your hands do not get caught in the equipment.

Automation can speed up processes, but it can also cause other problems. Change managers must understand these potential problems and build in appropriate safe guards without slowing down the process too much.

For computer applications, software has its own jargon. People may have to understand what is a "cache", what is an "API"? and why do I need to know. The computer may have built in decision making ability that lowers their prestige and/or lower their pay. Where does this data come from? How do I know this data is correct? Who replaced the person I used to contact when their was a problem or a question? These questions must be addressed. These questions must be answered in plain English rather than in computer jargon. They must be answered by people who understand that not everyone is a computer expert and just because they don't understand computers, they are still smart in their own jobs.

Change and Culture of Your Organization

Change needs to be viewed in the context of your industry and culture. Some industries have a great deal of change like cell phone manufacturers. Every 6 months a new phone comes out with new features replacing an older model. Change is relentless and continuous. In these types of industries, employees are more used to change. They understand change is part of life. Everyday brings something new.

Let's take a soft drink or milk manufacturer. At least as compared to the cell phone company, there is probably less change. Soft drinks have been manufactured the same way for many years with the same ingredients in the same containers. Yes we now have vitamin water, juices, etc. but there is less change in some industries and more change in other industries.

The amount of change in an industry can have a great affect on how well an organization adjusts to change.

Change will usually affect more parts of an organization than an initial review may point out. An organization must apply Process Management techniques if the organization is to be successful. The organization must use Process Flow Charts to determine where a process starts and where it finishes. Process flow charts should also include where support processes touch the process. For example how does purchasing, accounts payable, and IT affect the process? Failing to look at the entire process and its supporting processes increases the chances that there will be negative consequences to any change.

Likewise, unless the organization understands how a change will affect the entire process, the organization runs the risk of sub optimizing a process. Sub optimizing a process means that a sub process will be improved but the performance of the entire process will be reduced. Then the organization has to change the change which is seldom good for employee buy-in.

All organization have a formal organization chart and an informal organization chart. Smart change managers understand that change must involve both groups. Sometimes an employee does not have a high ranking job, but they are important to get their support for employee buy-in.

Rumors can not be stopped but rumors must be addressed. There must be some safe way for employees to express concerns without suffering retribution as not being a team player. An anonymous comment box is one way to handle rumors. A person tied in to rumors who will share the rumors and even respond to the rumors for the organization is another way to handle rumors.

It is important to address rumors so employees do not sabotage the change. A company website that addresses questions and informs other departments about the change is another way to handle rumors.

Those of us who have been involved with change for many years understand that no one can predict with certainty the outcome of any change program. However, the more time spent in addressing potential change issues will save time in resolving sabotage issues later.

What Will Normal Look Like?

Below are some of the questions that employees will ask.

  • What will normal look like?

  • What can I expect in terms of when I can talk?

  • When I can disagree?

  • How often I can go to the bathroom?

  • Can I call my mother at home?

  • Can I be 15 minutes late if I stay 15 minutes longer?

  • Can I make  mistakes? How many mistakes?

  • Can I visit at the coffee machine with a co-worker?

  • Will my new boss like me? Will I like my new boss? Will my job be easier or more difficult?

  • Do I have to ask permission to handle exceptions or can I decide?

  • Will I have to work with other departments more or just within my own department?

Change management must consider these issues as change is introduced.

Call John Antos at 972-980-7407 to discover how we can make your change programs more successful.
Change Management Is Critical to Introducing Successful Change

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