This year for Halloween we have some tips for when things get a little strange! Are your teams and colleagues acting odd? Is it because of the spooky season or do you find change scary?
Joking aside fear of change is a real issue. There’s considerable research around the impact of change on individuals and behaviour, including the famous change curve. In current times change in the workplace is inevitable, so it’s worth understanding what the drivers are for this and how we can reduce the negative impact.
All industries and sectors now work at a much faster pace than previously. This is just as true in the public sector as any other. It’s clear that organisations are sharing challenges around driving change, particularly around leadership of change, reacting in political environments, financial constraints and organisational change. One thing that does come up consistently in our conversations is the behaviours and attitudes of others. So why do people change their behaviours when something is about to change?
The answer is very often down to fear, at some level, from the individual and lack of support from management (which interestingly can also come from a place of fear or worry). So, this Halloween, let’s explore: what is scary about change?
This is the most obvious reason which people resist change and gets right to the heart of our basic needs. If someone feels uncertain about their future and their financial stability it is natural for us to find it difficult to see past the threat. There are huge individual differences in how we deal with this. Some people react positively to the opportunities change can bring, whereas others work to mitigate the risks and come across as more resistant. You can read more about our mindset changes here.
It is important to be aware of this and provide teams and colleagues with the space to deal with uncertainty. We also need to be mindful of its impact and try to provide certainty over day to day issues as soon as we can. Pay attention to milestones where you can provide more certainty and allow people the space to explore their fears.
2. Loss of control or lack of voice
Feeling unheard or out of control accelerates fear of change. Often in complex organisations change is decided at the top with minimal engagement with the people it really affects. When people feel out of the loop and without a voice in the change programme, they will quickly disengage and can also become resistant.
To overcome this, it’s important that change journeys plan in time to work with those affected to co-design the change that is happening. Not only will this reduce fear and increase engagement, it will also give you better solutions. Very often the people who change impacts the most are the ones with the best ideas about how to make things better!
3. Start with Why
I’m sure many of you have heard of Simon Sinek, who coined this phrase. In his book he refers to building organisational culture and selling products/services, where people understanding ‘why’ is crucial. I would argue it is even more vital when asking people to change the way they work. Not only do they have to understand the why, but they have to be driven by it. You can learn more about ‘start with why’ here. If your people don’t understand and connect with why they need to make changes, they will resist it.
I have experienced this first-hand: while working with a council on changing the way fees for adult social care were charged, I came across an individual with a reputation for resistance. He was the team leader of the team who assessed individual’s finances in order to decide what they were entitled to and whether they should pay for care. This was not a popular job!
I worked with him in detail to understand the processes they used and for the most part got a frosty reception. A couple of hours in I reflected on part of the process and my experience as a volunteer befriender for AgeUK. I had been on the other side trying to help a lady navigate the care system so she could access support. His demeanour completely changed, as he realised that our ‘whys’ were aligned. We were both trying to change the system to make it more effective and easier for the public. Once he understood this was my ‘why’, rather than saving money, we worked together and redesigned the process for the better. People have to connect with the ‘why’ of change if they are to champion and drive it.
4. Because we’re wrong?
Whenever I talk about resistance to change, I always end on this note of caution. Sometimes the strongest change resisters are so assertive because they are right, and we’re wrong. It can be tempting in change management to label resisters as “difficult people” and dismiss this behaviour as natural part of the change journey. I have found that those who are strongest in their resistance are always worth a conversation with to understand why. It is very easy to get carried away with a change journey, becoming focussed on successful completion of projects, when actually people may be resisting because what you’re trying to achieve has some significant risks.
So, how to reduce the impact of fear in change journeys:
- Work with your colleagues, stakeholders, customers and partners to design the change together. This means that you will have people on board from the beginning. Then, you will get the best possible chance of designing a change which will give you the outcomes you need.
- Don’t underestimate the work involved in supporting people through change. Be ready to dedicate significant resource to this, whether by freeing up the time of your leaders/managers or buying support in.
- Create and deliver a communication plan. No communication is “too much” during times of change.
- Challenge yourself and key members of the project team to re-think and critically assess the change in times of resistance – is it definitely the right thing to do? Use your strongest resisters for this.
- Be clear on the ‘why’, and make sure everyone is.
Following these steps will make your change project feel like a shared journey rather than a Halloween horror show!