Taming the Change-Resistance Beast
By Steve Romero
I recently started delivering project success workshops for Gantthead and regional Project Management Institute (PMI) chapters. The workshop consists of three modules, the first focusing on Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) given project success is founded on sound project and portfolio decisions. The second module addresses project management offices (PMO) and how to elevate them from ‘paper-pushers’ and ‘process police’ to participants in project success. The last module is the most unorthodox of the workshop as it tackles the widely neglected and misunderstood discipline of process management. Mastering the art and science of process management is essential to project success given PPM, PMOs, and project management, are all quite process-dependent.
Though most of the participants in my workshops come from organizations practicing some form PPM and almost all of them have PMOs, the workshop helps them to realize their processes leave much to be desired. The threefold discussion enables them to recognize their project-related processes are not suitably defined and designed, not thoughtfully and thoroughly implemented, and not properly and passionately managed. At the conclusion of the workshop attendees are often overwhelmed by the prospect that they have much work to do when they return to their offices. And though they foresee numerous obstacles to fostering increased project success, the challenge folks find most troubling is the inevitable resistance to the changes they know they much impose on their coworkers. Most would gladly choose dragon-slaying over facing the change-resistance beast.
Conquering this challenge is vital when it comes to any business process change. Anyone who has ever tried to introduce business process change can attest to the unnerving and discouraging prospect of overcoming resistance to change. They find this predictable response to change to be unreasonable and exacerbating and many seek the authority to force the change. This authority is seldom obtained and even when it is, it rarely triumphs over the resistance.
Instead of combating resistance to change, there is a three-pronged approach I have found to be effective in dealing with this debilitating human phenomenon. They keys are to expect, accept and manage resistance to change.
I like the late and great Dr. Michael Hammer’s change resistance formula, which I have found to be true in almost every case of business process change. Each of us has a choice when faced with change. We can choose to embrace change, ignore it, or resist it. Michael consistently found that a group of 100 people faced with a new business process would result in the following:
20 Process Cheerleaders – 20% of the people faced with process change will embrace if not outright celebrate it. They will be enthusiastically onboard from the start and ready to pick up the banner for the new process and run with it. They are ready to go and hard to stop.
60 Fence-sitters – 60% of the people faced with process change will be “on the fence.” They won’t necessarily have a strong opinion in one direction or the other. They may not be completely apathetic to the change, but it will be difficult to measure any emotion one way or the other.
20 Naysayers – 20% of the people faced with process change will be dead-set against it. They will believe it is a terrible idea because “we have never done it that way before.” They will be certain it won’t work. They will likely do whatever they can to stop it, either blatantly or covertly. They can’t wait to say, “We told you it would never work here.”
When faced with the 20% of very unhappy and very vocal Naysayers, those responsible for the business process change frequently respond defensively and sometimes emotionally. They consider the resistance to be a personal attack on their effort and they subsequently spend much of their time and energy trying to persuade the Naysayers. They do everything they can to convince them the business process change is necessary, reasoned and rational. Though they put their heart and soul behind their pleas, they almost never succeed. I contend that even if they do succeed, the benefit of altering the perceptions and beliefs of Naysayers is rarely commensurate to the time and energy invested in changing their minds.
Instead, new process advocates should accept resistance to business process change. Accept the fact that some people are inherently against change and there will be little that can be done about it. Instead of trying to change the minds of Naysayers, change proponents should simply separate them from the fence-sitters. Don’t fire the detractors…yet, but take the steps necessary to prevent them from influencing those folks who have not yet made up their minds. The key is to not respond emotionally to the certainty of resistance to change.
Successful business process change is realized when resistance to the change is managed. The most critical aspects of managing change are:
Fence-sitters…meet the Cheerleaders – Remember how we separated the fence-sitters from the Naysayers? Well, we hooked them all up with the Cheerleaders so we can turn our 20 Cheerleaders into 80 Cheerleaders.
Executive Sponsorship – Business process change is rarely successful without the sponsorship of Senior Leadership. This leadership is required to establish and consistently reinforce the vision for the business process change, and for overcoming the countless challenges and obstacles to change. Senior Leadership is also critical to overcome the urge to abandon business process changes when mistakes occur – and they will occur. This leadership is crucial to fostering the audacity, courage, resilience and perseverance to realize the change.
Select an Organizational Change Management Methodology – My favorite Change Management Methodology is General Electric’s Change Acceleration Process (CAP). There are many more and the key is to find one conducive to your culture and your specific effort and then follow it religiously. The methodologies provide all of the tools and tricks to seeing the change to fruition.
Assign Change Management Accountability – Change rarely takes place on its own. All change needs to managed which means accountability should be assigned to somebody capable of ensuring the change takes place. This person is responsible for ensuring the success of the Change Management Methodology and subsequent approach.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – I realize this will be inherent to any Change Management Methodology, but it bears repeating. NOTHING replaces communication when it comes to business process change. There will be a litany of items to communicate to countless people in the organization and this must be managed thoroughly and relentlessly.
WIFM (What’s in it for me.) – If you don’t tell people what is in it for them, they will rarely (if ever) understand, accept and commit to business process change. People are going to ask why and the response must be immediate, succinct, reasonable and rational. All business process change must result in at least one of the following:
- Benefits the person participating in the business process
Benefits the customer of the business process (improved product or service)
Benefits the enterprise using the business process
Benefits other members of the business process team
When somebody asks “Why?” at least one of the above answers should apply and be at the ready. If the answer does not motivate the person to commit to the change, then I suggest they don’t have the values required to participate in the change. These values must be instilled in them or it is time for them to go.
As for the Naysayers who have been sequestered, the enterprise should not necessarily get rid of them or even chastise them. The contrary nature of the Naysayers can actually be very helpful to the business process change effort. Naysayers can help prevent group-think. Naysayers can help proponents to see challenges, problems or issues that their rose-colored pro-process glasses might prevent them from noticing. Engage the Naysayers in fact-based objective discussions by steering them away from emotional or general statements. Query and listen to the naysayers but do so in a controlled, methodical fashion aided by expert facilitation.
I received this tweet years ago and I will never forget it, “The forces of change are constant. Helping make it happen is a choice.” The reality is that some people will simply choose not make it happen. Instead, they resist and sometimes even sabotage the change. This is unfortunate and it underscores something else I learned from Michael Hammer – not everyone will come along. Dr. Hammer insisted that an organization will always lose some number of folks simply because they refuse to accept the business process change. As regrettable as this is, it must also be acknowledged and accepted by those sponsoring and fostering the change.
Resistance to change is just as inevitable as the constant and continuous change that spawns it. Instead of finding this occurrence to be galling and maddening, change champions that expect, accept, and ultimately manage can help their enterprises to evolve and prosper. They will be able to tame the change-resistance beast.
Steve Romero is a published and globally recognized IT governance evangelist and IT business value activist. His mission is to help enterprises realize the full potential of their IT investments for strategic and competitive advantage. He speaks around the world to companies in every business sector, federal and state government agencies, industry organizations, students, and information technology and business luminaries to identify and communicate leading advances in business governance and business management of IT. You can read more from Steve on http://www.itgevangelist.com/.