Change Resistance

Most changes in business generate some opposition from one group or another. Each issue is likely to be divisive to some degree. But although we can influence change we can rarely stop it. Some change is driven by forces outside the organisation and beyond the control of its management. It may look as if some people want change for change's sake that is actually quite rare. I do know one organisation that has a policy of continual change. They move entire departments around the building just so that people get to talk with new neighbours. Even in that company change has a purpose. In general change is there to make something better, cheaper or faster. In industry the real driver is usually that some competitor is already or is threatening to do that first.

Resistance to change usually arises because someone fears that they will be worse off in some way after the change. The big challenge in managing change is to convince everyone that they will actually be better off after the change. Positive encouragement persuades them that they will be better off because of the change. Negative persuades them that they will be worse off if they fail to make the change. In the past this was made easier by keeping the workforce in the dark. In the Internet age that has become much less effective. For practical and ethical reasons honesty is the best policy. Management needs to communicate better, more frequently and more honestly than in the past.

In The Good Times

It is important that workers understand that their skills and knowledge have real value to the organisation. It takes time and effort to bring new people up to speed so it is usually easier to retrain existing employees in new techniques. Those new skills make the employees even more valuable and hopefully that will be reflected in their pay. How much of the extra productivity goes to the workers and how much to the shareholder is still going to be a source of disagreement.

If workers know that they are valued they will have less reason to be uncertain about their future. In turn that will reduce their fear of and resistance to change.

In The Bad Times

When the business is shrinking it is tempting to hide bad news but again in the Internet age it is very difficult to keep a workforce in the dark. News will leak out and result in uncertainty and inevitably fear. This leaves the organisation at risk from the "Dead Sea Effect." The dead sea is becoming more salty because the rivers feeding it bring in some salt. Water evaporates from the sea leaving this salt behind. In times of uncertainty people look for new jobs. The better ones find that easier and leave the less able behind. So talent leaches out of the organisation.

Managing an organisation in a shrinking market is never going to be easy. But hiding the true situation from the staff is risky.

Bernard Peek