Change is an inevitable part of business growth but its success depends on the support of all stakeholders, says Lyndsey Simpson, co-founder of The Curve Group
In business as in life, change is at some point inevitable. Be it small or large, affecting solely us or others too, change can have a massive impact on many different aspects of our lives. We all develop our own way of doing things, our own way of getting the job done, and even the slightest change can have a significant impact on this, frequently leaving people feeling uncomfortable that their previous way of doing things has been affected.
We are often hugely excited by change in our businesses, especially when they are associated with positive outcomes such as growth. As we have been part of the process, we can often only see the positives and it is easy to become frustrated when others just don’t seem to ‘get it’. However, rather than simply becoming frustrated, in order to deal with such problems it is crucial for us to try and understand others’ opinions and put ourselves in their shoes to understand their concerns or objections. More than likely, those who are seen to be resisting the change will actually have a valid reason that is worth discussing and addressing.
Resistance to change can happen for a number of reasons but to make things simpler I am going to break it down into two areas: passive resistance and active resistance. Passive resistors are those people whose general opinion is that they were quite happy working in the way that they were before. They will accept changes but do not fully understand the reasons for them and therefore struggle to apply them to their daily working lives or change their old routines. Active resistors are those who are more visible in their dissatisfaction with change. These individuals openly don’t accept the changes and as a result will, if left alone, become dissatisfied with what you are asking them to do, which will in turn negatively impact their morale and performance.
So how do you deal with these people? As in any aspect of life, if changes are made without sufficient communication accompanying them, people are naturally going to feel uncomfortable and confused. It is crucial that you share why the changes are taking place. Whilst something may seem obvious to you, that doesn’t automatically make it the case for everyone else. In our busy working lives this can often be forgotten and we just communicate ‘what’ needs to change. Don’t be afraid of the detail and the story around the ‘why’, as it is this that will bring your people on the journey.
Change in practice
Let’s look at an example. You would like to introduce a new element to your process whereby everyone asks for referrals at the end of each client call. This is a classic request whereby the business leader will think ‘why on earth would we not want to do that?’ and your team may think ‘I don’t want to do that; it’s embarrassing, they may not want to refer and I will be putting them on the spot and facing an awkward conversation.’ The ‘what’ here is to introduce a formal process and perhaps scripted question to ask for referrals. The short ‘why’ is to help business growth. If you simply announce the change like this, I would bet on you receiving resistance.
The detailed story behind ‘why’ you are making the change could be: “it’s really important that we understand what our customers think of us but I don’t think that they would want to complete a long questionnaire online, nor would we like you to stop what you’re doing to make outbound calls to ask customers a load of questions. Therefore, we thought if we asked one simple question at the end of every interaction over the next six weeks, that killer question could be ‘would you refer us?’ If they wouldn’t, we really need to understand why so we can adapt and change the way we serve them so that we don’t lose them as a customer. This would also give us the chance to develop innovations from their ideas that we can roll-out to other customers to help us grow.”
With that explanation, even if you have the odd naysayer, the majority of the team is likely to get it and understand why this is a good thing to do.
On occasions where larger scale changes are being made, you may be presented with more active resistors and it is important to try and address this instead of becoming frustrated. In such cases, a deeper level of education is required. Here at The Curve Group, we run an informal business book club for our employees. One of the recent short reads was a book called Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. “The book is great at addressing all possible issues related to change and highlights the importance of a positive approach in managing change,” says Amy Cookson, a talent executive on our HR consulting team who ran our most recent session. “Informal sessions like this are invaluable as the company continues to grow.”
With the right communication and education on change – and your reasons for it – those who were initially concerned will come around. It’s far better to see their challenges as a positive rather than a negative; as an opportunity to look at things from a different point of view and a way to test the decisions that you have made.
Change is not only inevitable, it is essential for business survival, so it is vital that everyone in your business is ready to deal with it.