Imagine your boss has given you an important assignment to bring about a needed change in your organization. Sounds good. But people throughout your organization will resist this change. Not so good. How can you overcome this resistance?
A Formula for Change
Here’s the short answer to this complex question:
D + V + F > R
In this formula, R equals Resistance to change. What overcomes R is a combination of D (Dissatisfaction), V (Vision), and F (Feasibility). This formula is the work of Richard Beckhardt who, like other consultants, had no authority to mandate change, but only the ability to influence others to embrace it. Let’s examine each in turn.
Resisting change is often seen as a negative posture. Yet resistance to the wrong kind of change can save an organization, so its potential value must not be overlooked. The change maker must first meet people where they are, and both understand and empathize with their position.
Picture those who embrace change and those who resist change as being two groups who access different sets of experience and information. The challenge of those who embrace a change is to lead those who resist it on an educational journey that helps them see the world in new ways. They must be exposed to the kinds of people, information, and experiences that proved transformative to those who embrace change. From this perspective, the change maker’s task is one of education, not of persuasion or power.
Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo
The change maker must build motivation to change within others. A powerful source of motivation is dissatisfaction with what isn’t working. People can be dissatisfied with the status quo (the way things are) or with an undesirable future (the way things may be).
Many resist change because they think the current condition is viable, whereas others who embrace change see that it is not. Those who see what isn’t working have to document, and share, that painful reality, in ways others can grasp. This may mean introducing service providers to the wrath of their customers, giving workers feedback on the shortcomings in their performance, or exposing organizations to data about how their competitors are leaving them behind. This knowledge induces pain and discomfort. Yet this pain becomes a powerful motivation to act differently. Creating dissatisfaction now to avoid a future pain (think reducing carbon emissions now to mitigate global warming later) is the hardest, but the process is the same.
Vision of Something Better
A second powerful source of motivation to change is a vision of the good that comes from it. This happens naturally when people are engaged in creating a shared vision of what they want. Typically this involves a collaborative exercise in envisioning a preferred future, and there are many great group processes that produce this result.
People also get excited about change when they see it in action, benefiting colleagues in real time at an organization that feels similar to their own. This happens from exposure to best practices embraced by peer leaders who serve as external voices for change. Typically this involves field trips, best practice studies, and competitor analysis.
Feasibility of Change
The third powerful source of motivation to change is belief in the feasibility of the proposed change. Even people who know that the current situation is untenable, and can imagine a better future, may still remain paralyzed because they can’t see a way forward.
These people need to be inspired by those who have achieved change in similarly difficult settings, supported to envision ways around obstacles, and coached in strategies to make the change work. Once they see the pathway forward, they will join you.
Helping Others Move Forward
Richard Beckhardt said, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that if they don’t embrace change, it’s because they don’t know how bad things are, can’t envision a more positive future, and see no pathway ahead. Listen to them, engage them, and educate them, until together you can move forward.
About Jay W Vogt
Jay W Vogt is an organizational development consultant, and author of Recharge Your Team – The Grounded Visioning Approach. Learn more at www.peoplesworth.com.