Resistance happens. Even with Change Agents. In fact, you’re setting your change initiative up for failure if your strongest supporters are blindly “selling it” without having thought through their own concerns or those of your stakeholders.
In my last post, I told the story of traveling home this past week using an e-Boarding Pass for the first time. This new technology allows airline fliers to skip the printing of a paper boarding pass and have a message sent to their web-enabled cell phone which accomplishes the same purpose.
The message contains a “QR Code” that looks like the picture on the right and when read by a special scanner, it gives travel authorities the same information that appears on a paper pass.
According to SITA’s 2009 Airline IT Trend Survey,mobile boarding passes account for 2.1% of travelers (vs. paper boarding passes) and they forecast that the percentage of travelers using this technology will rise to 11.6% in 2012.
Those using the QR Code could be classified as “early adopters” in the language of Organizational Change Management (OCM). Since I am an OCM guy, I tried the new technology for the first time this week and had a natural human reaction otherwise known as “resistance to change”.
I went into the process fully committed, somewhat clueless and otherwise intrigued. But along the way, I had some serious doubts whether the QR Code would transmit properly and whether I’d be sent to the back of the security line or even miss my flight. So at the last minute, I printed a backup paper copy.
Even though I made it home just fine using the new gadget-based credential, my actions reminded me that no one is immune from this natural reaction to new things. I shared a list of 8 ways to diffuse potential resistance – and today I’ll go into more detail on that list. (Let me know if you have additional ideas by commenting on the questions below)
1. Always Anticipate Some Push-Back. When planning for your change, be ready for the natural reaction that all humans have to change. We can call it resistance, call it “getting over the hump”, call it fear or any other label, but it’s something we all do. Even folks like me who claim to love change are not immune from resisting it when something important is at stake… like getting home after a long day.
2. Create Opportunities to Vent: One of the most effective ways to deflate fear is to talk through it. I usually advocate that project teams build in a way for stakeholders to express what makes them nervous about the change within some acceptable boundaries. Site visits, surveys, town halls and dozens of other techniques can be useful for this.
3. Listen: Be willing to hear the legitimate (and not so legit) concerns your stakeholders share. You don’t have to agree with them and you certainly don’t want to excuse them from the change just because they complain, but sometimes the act of listening to a person talk thru the fear is enough to help them diffuse it.
4. Look for trends in the resistance… There will usually be patterns to the resistance. For example, if most of the company is fine with the move to a new technology tool, but one division is off the charts with resistance, you may want to dig deeper into that part of the org chart. Or if 4 of the 5 major elements of your change are getting a warm reception, but the numbers are low for the fifth one, you may need to adapt your communication approach a bit.
5. Be Specific: Create ways to help people thru the very specific concerns they have. It can be helpful to brainstorm targeted answers to the most fear-laden, most complex and most common questions that stakeholders have. Capture them as FAQ’s or cover them with training.
6. Be Honest: I once had a client tell me she hated the term “buy-in” because it implied that she was being sold something or even being sold out. If the new way of doing things involves giving something up that the stakeholders are very fond of, you’d better provide a good alternative or you’d at least bring an acknowledgement that you are adding hassle to their lives. Example: if your change involves replacing an old “green screen” software system with a new GUI-based one, most people will be OK with it as long as they can still do their work. But if that rollout also involves changing who does what or eliminating positions, you need to be honest with them. Trust me: your people will learn the truth eventually, and when they do, your soft-peddled answer will look like a lie.
7. Bend But Don’t Break: Look for creative ways to ease them into the change. Can they continue on with the old way for a while as they learn the new way? Set a solid date for when you’ll totally eliminate the old way of doing things, but also account for a period of transition. Consider having a pilot group of early adopters go first. Maybe try a phased roll-out or even a brief period of parallel operations if it can be done without sacrificing the project’s goals. Example. There is no rule against a passenger carrying BOTH a paper boarding pass and an ePass for the same flight. Maybe after a few flights of carrying both, my confidence will be robust enough to go all-digital at some point…
8. Silence is NOT golden. Don’t believe for a minute that everyone’s OK with your change just because they aren’t vocally complaining. In many cases, people avoid even thinking about your change until they absolutely have to. Their resistance may only surface after their first exposure to the change – even if you’ve been working on it for months. I encourage my clients to do regular listening activities to gauge where stakeholder’s heads are through the course of a change. When I do surveys of this type, the first question I ask is “What have you heard so far?” and the first option for answers is “Nothing… this is the first I’ve heard of it”. When things are going poorly, you will typically hear more feedback than you want. When they are going well, you will potentially hear very little feedback. When people haven’t seen enough or done enough to form an opinion, you will almost certainly hear nothing. In any case, you should push for data rather than wait for it.
Summary: Just like flying, implementing change can include dealing with occasional turbulence. While Change Agents may be held to a higher standard when it comes to accepting new things, it doesn’t mean they can’t resist from time to time too. It’s a natural human reaction. Use these eight techniques to help your stakeholders deal with their concerns and you’ll be well on your way home.
Questions for Chatter:
- What other techniques have you used to address resistance to change?
- Which techniques above tend to yield the best results and which are less effective?
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