Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to go in the opposite direction.” – Albert Einstein
If you have been involved in projects that affect humans, you will not be surprised to know that the human dimension of any project represents a significant risk factor. This is even more true for a transformation project.
Although they sometimes say the opposite, humans like predictability and comfort. They naturally resist any change until they understand the benefits.
In other words, the human dimension of a transformation project is often one of the most complex and neglected variables of such a project.
“We want to transform, but we’d like to reduce the amount of change.”
Leaders who share this constraint with me are aware that change is usually difficult. They are motivated to change the way they operate, but they would like to avoid the side effects of change.
While it is almost impossible to cause no side effects, it is definitely possible to reduce the number and negative effects.
In this fourth article, I share the human aspects of reducing barriers and resistance to change.
This is not an organizational transformation
An organizational transformation is in fact the individual transformation of each person within your organization. The organization is an abstract entity, but the employees are real. They are the ones who need to change and therefore it is necessary to approach your organizational transformation as the transformation of each individual in your organization. While it is easier to transform entire groups and departments at once, you will need to approach transformation by targeting each individual.
The coalition of change agents discussed in the previous article and the involvement of managers are two of the strategies available to influence each individual in your organization.
Like a marketing or influence campaign, your transformation project must be developed so that each individual feels personally targeted. As with an election campaign, the messages of your transformation must challenge each person to change the way they do things.
The new desired behaviors must be very well defined.
In discussions with my clients’ employees, I am often told, “Management has told us to be agile, but I don’t know what that really means and how to do it properly”.
Most of the time, employees are receptive to the proposed changes but do not understand how to implement them.
By clearly defining the new behaviours desired by employees and managers, your transformation becomes more understandable.
The following table is an example of a behavioural change communicated to the employees of one of our clients. The first column shows the behaviours that need to be reduced or eliminated as part of the transformation, while the second column shows the behaviours that need to replace the old unwanted behaviours.
By making the desired changes explicit, employees and managers are able to specifically understand what they need to do in practice. When employees do not understand what is expected, they will react using their old ways of doing things or invent solutions based on their understanding. Both of these options are undesirable.
Concrete support must be given to those involved in the change.
While the transformation may seem obvious to those who initiate it, it is generally less obvious to those who need to make changes in the way they work.
Beyond communication about the changes, training and coaching are elements to be integrated into the transformation plan. Training allows employees to familiarize themselves with the new ways of doing things, but it is generally insufficient. Coaching individuals and teams by competent coaches helps accelerate the adoption of new ways of doing things.
Coaches thus offer direct support to the tasks performed by employees and listen to their resistance. The contribution of qualified coaches is often an important element in supporting the success of a transformation.
We have to accept that some people will not agree to change.
Let’s be honest. Most leaders want everyone in their organization to change. Unfortunately, unless you have unlimited time and resources, this is an impossible task!
The “late majority” (between 10% and 30%) will resist for a long time before agreeing to change. Therefore, you will need to be focused and prioritize the areas in which you invest your time and energy. You must ensure that everything is done to communicate, explain and answer questions related to organizational transformation. That being said, you will need to determine how much effort you are willing to put into getting people to transform.
Be prepared to be constantly under the magnifying glass
As the initiator of the transformation, employees will observe your behaviours to ensure that they are consistent with the objectives of the transformation. For your organizational transformation to be successful, you, the initiator, will need to be the one who consistently demonstrates the new behaviours that are expected.
In most organizations, employees replicate the behaviours they observe. The most influential behaviours are those of leaders.
Whether you like it or not, employees will observe your actions to understand what is expected from the transformation. Your message is important, but it is the actions and behaviors that have the most impact.
When employees perceive inconsistencies between what leaders say and what they do, this inconsistency undermines the credibility of the transformation process.
The human aspects of a transformation are not simple, but they can be well managed. Experienced relationship counselors and coaches understand these issues and have the experience and tools to reduce negative impacts on transformation projects.
Overall, transformations are not necessarily simple, but when leaders anticipate the main pitfalls and get a diagnosis of the situation before the project starts, they increase their chances of success. When they plan a transformation strategy and make sure they integrate the human aspects, transformations produce surprising and lasting results.