“What people resist is loss, not change”

Don’t overlook the human side of change.

“What people resist is loss, not change”.   Prof. Marty Linsky and Prof. Ron Heifetz, authors of “the Practice of Adaptive Leadership”

Photo credit:  explorehr.org

Listen to this organizational change scenario that I recently heard from an executive director.  See if you recognize anything familiar in this:

We’re trying to get the staff to be more nimble in responding to clients’ needs, so we decided to cross-train our case managers so several people could take care of a given client.  The managers cross-trained well, but what we didn’t anticipate was that some of them would complain that they lost their unique identity as “the expert”.

What seemed like a simple change in a business process turned out to have unintended consequences, relating to the human side of change.  Isn’t that often the case?  When you introduce new technologies or change the way services are delivered to your clients or customers, there are two levels of change: the business process and the human side.  Organizations often neglect to consider, or plan for, the latter, and of course, that’s what often gets in the way of successful change.

On the human side, when you encounter resistance, there’s often a challenge to people’s identity – their status or expertise.  If you’re introducing a change in your organization, think about what people may lose in the process:

  1. They may lose a sense of competence in knowing how to do their job, while learning something new.
  2. They may lose their status as “the expert”.
  3. When you take on a large number of new staff, longer-standing employees may experience sadness over the loss of the “family feeling” of a smaller organization.
  4. If you’re working with stakeholders, the staff may have a loyalty to a particular group of people that feels threatened by the proposed change in the way of doing business.

Recognize that what feels to you like resistance is actually people fearing a loss and trying to deal with it.  Help your staff deal with this sense of loss:

  1. Acknowledge it.
  2. Give them space to talk about it with each other as a group.
  3. For #2 above, continue to publicly recognize the employees for their expertise. Thank them for sharing their expertise with other staff.
  4. For #3 above, ask people at a staff meeting “how can we preserve the relationships and the “special sauce” of the organization?”
  5. For #4, facilitate a conversation with your staff about their loyalties and what’s at stake for them. Help them identify their shared purpose with their stakeholders, and how they can continue to be in connection with those stakeholders.
  6. Ask employees to identify how they might benefit from the change.  Will they gain new skills that will be valuable for their career growth?  Will they have an opportunity to work with a new group of people, which might interest them?   Help them connect the change to their source of motivation, i.e. career growth, potential for moving up the career ladder,  working with new people.

It’s always helpful to talk about managing change with other leaders or with a coach.  You don’t have to do this alone.  Let me know how I can help you cross the bridge of managing change.

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