Change is constant and occurs whether we like it or not. Understanding its components on a personal level can help us translate that understanding to the organizational level; an important thing as organizational change typically affects many different areas of that organization. Maybe even more important is the effect that change has on the individuals within the organization, and the impact the change has on them. Sometimes I think that during organizational change so much attention is paid to the “hows” and “whys” of the organizational change, we forget that there are people at the heart of that change. I have seen firsthand how, even though there was “talk” about the importance of the people involved, the focus was actually more on the organizational outcomes than the effect the change would have on the individuals involved.
Influences on Change
Typically, causes of change can be split into two categories: Internal and External.
No organization is an island — external forces continuously influence and interact with its existence. Individuals and organizations may have very little ability to influence external factors such as politics, culture, economy, societal changes, or technology. It is important to understand that if the change is the result of an external factor, we must accept the change, and then modify any internal processes or items that are affected by the external influence.
Internal factors are numerous, as almost anything can influence change within an organization. Some of the more obvious ones are employees, policies, organization structure, managerial, and financial. Internal causes of change are the ones we have the most control over. This allows us to prepare for change using education, communication, training, and support. These tools will help mitigate any negative outcomes that may occur as a result of the change.
Common Reactions to Change
What are some of the reactions that we need to be aware of and to watch for during a Change Process?
- Denial: When a change is announced some people may feel that change is not necessary. They may be reluctant to listen, or deny any facts or information presented to support the change.
- Resistance: With any change there will always be those who resist the change. Resistance is very common and stems from a fear of the unknown. Not knowing how an event is going to turn out can be scary for those who experiencing a change.
- Anger: When change occurs and the norm is uprooted, people can experience anger. People may lash out and become uncooperative during this time. Humans are creatures of habit, and when habits are disrupted, people can become angry.
- Indifference: People just may not care, or they may feel the change will not impact their routines or work. Be wary of this, as the change may be intended to do just that. If the individual is indifferent about it the change then they may not understand or accept it.
- Acceptance: Changes generally occur for the better and have a positive influence on those involved. Even with positive change, acceptance may not happen right away, but should occur more quickly than when the change is perceived to be negative.
Tools to Help the Change Process
There are ways of minimizing and mitigating challenges that come with Change Processes. Preparing for change is crucial and although not a guarantee of success, will increase the odds. Here some tools that can help facilitate the change process and provide it the best chances for success.
- Communication: Keep the lines of communication open before, during and after the change, as on the fly adjustments may be needed. This will help with any unforeseen events that occur during the process of change. It will also help to learn for the event, which should make future changes occur even more smoothly.
- Education: Educate all parties on the reasons for the change, and what the expected outcomes will be. People want to know why a change is occurring. It will also help to stop and clear up any rumours that may have been spread.
- Training: Make sure all parties are trained and up to date with any and all material required for the change.
- Flexibility: Even when change is well-planned, not all events can be foreseen. Be flexible and ready to modify or update the current plan to account for any unforeseen events.
- Affected Parties: It is especially important to have the individuals that are involved in the change participate in the change process. They may be able to shed light into the subject from an expert’s point of view.
These tools can help battle negative reactions when they occur. Change is a process — it is not easy and it can be fraught with dangers. Being as prepared as possible will not ensure a smooth transition but will increase the odds of one.
John Whitehead, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.
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