A new year, by its’ very nature, brings changes, whether we want them or not. A new number to remember when writing checks or dating memos and letters (for those of us who still do such old-fashioned things). New leaders assuming power in local, state and national governments. A new tax year – time to take that drawer full of receipts and start organizing them for the taxman!
Managing change. Embracing change. Being an agent for change. An internet search on any of these phrases yields literally millions of results. Why is so much written about change? Because change is incredibly difficult for many people. Business leaders trying to implement major changes are likely to face significant resistance from those who, knowingly or not, are uncomfortable with change.
There are many quotes about change, telling us “We must become the change we want to see in the world” (Mohandas Gandhi), and warning us that “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be” (John Wooden). But one of my favorite quotes is from Marilyn Monroe. She said, “I’m invariably late for appointments… I’ve tried to change my ways, but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing.”
This quote succinctly pinpoints some of the major reasons for resistance to change: It doesn’t feel good, it feels strange. Anything (habits, patterns, behaviors) that a person knows is usually preferable to the unknown. The pull of what is predictable and enjoyable is very, very strong for most people. There are many emotional connections to the current, familiar ways of doing things. Sometimes even unpleasant circumstances are preferable to the unknown.
On the other hand, many leaders and change agents accept, even embrace, change. They enjoy the thrill of problem solving and dealing with the unexpected. Once they have mastered a particular challenge, they often get bored and look for more change and new challenges. However, the skilled leader is emotionally intelligent enough to know that some of his employees respond very differently to change, and that it is often necessary to acknowledge with respect the “old ways”, so that employees feel validated and recognized for their efforts, while at the same time introducing changes in a way that makes those changes comfortable for employees.
In the book The Emotionally Intelligent Manager (2004, David R. Caruso and Peter Salovey), the authors provide an “emotional blueprint” process that is useful for introducing change to people. The blueprint works as follows:
- Identify emotions/feelings of group and/or key participants. Listen, ask questions, and paraphrase to ensure you understand how employees feel.
- Use emotions/feelings to guide both your thinking and the thinking of the other people involved as you discuss potential changes.
- Understand emotions/feelings. Examine the causes of these feelings and how they are likely to influence participants’ reactions to planned changes.
- Manage emotions/feelings. In order to implement change most effectively, utilize this “emotional intelligence” in conjunction with data, hard facts, and logical information.
By being aware of your employees’ concerns, fears, and reasons for resisting change, you will be able to build a better implementation plan, get better buy-in, and see more quickly the transformation desired as you “bring in the new” in 2011.
2010 Makarios Consulting, LLC, www.MakariosConsulting.com