From your employees’ perspective, there are only two kinds of change in business. One is when the change is perceived in positive terms. The other is when the proposed change is seen in a negative light. Let’s discuss the first here: positive change.
You might think, “If employees see a change as positive, why is the change hard to accomplish? Why does it require close management? There shouldn’t be any resistance at all!” But remember, while employees may approve of the end result of a change, they will resist the chaos that occurs between the present state and the future state. That is why positive change needs management, too.
The following graph shows the process people tend to go through when they perceive the nature of the change they are experiencing as positive.
The best way to walk through this process is to give you a real-life example of a friend who made a significant career move and took a great new job that was undeniably a step in the right direction.
Our friend started out with enormous enthusiasm and confidence, loving the idea of the new job. “This is going to be great! It is the most fantastic opportunity I have ever come across. It will catapult my career to greatness!” All of this is called Uninformed Certainty or, as we say in our training sessions, “Ignorance on fire!” Our friend was blocking out anything that suggested balance or a more realistic set of expectations.
Shortly after the new job began, our friend began to express doubts and pessimism. The job wasn’t as perfect as he thought it was going to be. There was someone else on the job who was difficult to deal with. There was a demanding boss who wasn’t clear about exactly what he wanted. Our friend then entered into the Informed Doubt stage.
In response to his growing doubt, our friend began to resist in two ways. As he became more and more disillusioned and disappointed, he made less and less effort in being successful. He did not invest 100%, but rather did what he needed to do to get by. We call this covert resistance. He also put his resume on Monster.com and began networking to find a new job. This is called overt resistance.
However, after our friend experienced some success on the job, he became more realistic about it. He admitted, “OK, the job is not perfect; it’s not exactly what I thought it would be. But there are some things here that are very positive. I’m in a position where I can grow and develop skills that I haven’t developed before.” At this point my friend was at the stage of Realistic Hope, that there was much to be gained by working on this new job.
Once our friend experienced a period of success over a few months, he arrived at the final stage, Informed Certainty, stating “On balance, my decision to take this job was a good decision.”
As a leader, when you have people going through what they perceive to be a positive change, draw upon these recommended responses at each stage:
- Be realistic. Communicate that this change is not a cure-all, but do so in such a way as to instill a healthy, balanced outlook – not to squash enthusiasm and motivation.
- Stay enthusiastic. Keep the energy going!
- Emphasize the long-term possibilities.
- Listen with empathy.
- Remind the person about the positive reasons for making the change.
- Educate the person on the goals and net result of the change.
- Listen, acknowledge, and take their input to heart.
- Gently challenge the resistance while affirming the individual. Try a problem-solving twist: ask the person how he or she would address the concerns.
- Engage in activities, such as focus groups, to uncover covert resistance.
- Take informal soundings from one-on-one conversations.
- Once identified, listen closely to each person who is covertly resisting.
- Reinforce positive accomplishments.
- Emphasize how close the person or team is to the future state.
- Reward achievement.
- Ask “What have you learned through this process?”
- Prepare for the next change! (It’s coming!)
This blog is an excerpt from our book Leading on Purpose – learn more about leading change and other key leadership skills by purchasing your copy today!
 This model is based on Daryl R. Conner’s Organizational Change Model in Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail. New York, NY: Random House, 1992, 2006.