Is someone who struggles with change ‘resistant’ to it? Or are they simply not ready for change?
The difference is important, because ‘readiness for change’ is something you can gauge even before a change takes place.
By knowing how ready for change they are – and working to increase their readiness – you may never need to deal with ‘resistance’ at all.
Using the word ‘readiness’ also removes the rather judgemental associations of the word ‘resistance’. That will affect the attitudes and approach of the people who need to make change happen.
So – how can you determine someone’s readiness? (And let’s give the ‘someone’ a name – Hubert – to avoid complicated language. Apologies to anyone called Hubert, of course…)
There are two issues you need to think about:
- The drivers: How bad does Hubert believe that things now? How much – in Hubert’s view – will change improve them?
- The restraint: How secure does Hubert feel with things as they are?
Drivers for change
If Hubert’s unhappy then he’s far more likely to welcome change. And the more unhappy he is, the more willing he will be to try something new.
If Hubert is comfortable with things as they are it may be hard to persuade him to do things differently – let alone to do things that are different.
So – in essence – a successful change needs to be driven by at least a moderate level of dissatisfaction.
But it also needs to overcome…
Restraints on change
Good research suggests that Hubert’s own feelings of security may be a critical barrier to change. And (by definition) those feelings will be very difficult for anyone except Hubert to determine! That’s because we’re talking about subjective perception, not objective reality. So to truly understand Hubert’s position you’d need to be inside his head. And seeing the world exactly as he sees it.
This subject is tricky enough to deserve a post of its own. So, for the moment, let’s assume we have at least a rough idea about Hubert’s level of felt security.
What effect will this have on his readiness to accept change?
Suppose Hubert is feeling insecure at the moment. That means his anxiety levels are high, and he will be unwilling or even unable to cope with change.
If, on the other hand, he is feeling very secure then he won’t be interested in new information or new ideas.
Drivers and restraints – how they work together
That – as you can see – creates a fascinating picture.
The shaded area is where Hubert is fairly dissatisfied – but also feels reasonably secure. This is when he’s most likely to accept change.
To the right – where he feels almost completely secure – the chances of that become far smaller. If he feels both secure and satisfied (bottom right) then he will obviously be quite happy with things as they are. And If he feels completely secure he will probably become a contented and complacent ‘fat cat’. Even the boxes above, on the right, will be sparsely populated. That’s because new information and new ideas have little appeal to people who feel secure.
The left-hand column poses a different problem. If Hubert is here, even the strongest arguments will fail to cut much ice – because he is incapable of change. The very thought of change will induce the kind of panic that makes a rabbit freeze in the face of oncoming headlights!
So how can we find out where, on this diagram, Hubert feels he is?
And, more importantly, how can we move him to a position where he can and will change?
Any successful change process needs commitment from the people affected by it.
But how, exactly, do you measure commitment?
One definition might be that your people’s hearts and minds are aligned with their actions.
It sounds reasonable – but it could lead to hasty judgements.
Because people don’t always say what they mean, or mean what they say.
Some will apparently agree to a new process without question, and then continue to do what they’ve always done.
Others will grumble and complain, yet do pretty much what they have been asked to do.
Ideally, your process needs to have a way of telling the difference, so you can take the right corrective action with the right people.
It’s important not to assume that inappropriate behaviour automatically equals resistance to change. The simple fact is that most of us dislike change, and many of us love to grumble.
Habits, too, are hard to break. It’s easy for people to remain ‘trapped’ in old behaviour patterns even when they are no longer appropriate.
They may not even be aware this is happening – so their ‘hearts and minds’ may be fully engaged while their actions still lag behind what you are asking of them.
But suppose they just don’t want change?
Where there is genuine resistance, persuasion is nearly always better than forced conformance.
Anyone who doesn’t follow the process needs to understand how their behaviour damages the cause, and the impact that will have on themselves and others.
They may then need help and encouragement to develop new behaviours.
Of course, it’s possible they have good reason for resisting the new process. So it’s always advisable to get to the bottom of their issues before taking any action.
After all, they may have found a problem you hadn’t thought of!
But even if they haven’t, their feelings are important – especially if others share those feelings.
Forcing conformance may simply harden their resistance, and fatally damage your chances of achieving the change you need.
So rather than talking about ‘resistance’ to change, it may be more helpful to talk about readiness for change.
When it comes to change management, there are times when discussion is appropriate, and times when it isn’t.
For example, if the fire alarm is sounding and you’ve been ordered to leave the building, no one is interested in your objections to going outside. Even if you’re heading into the middle of a monsoon…
From a manager’s point of view, that’s the perfect model. There can be no argument, because:
- It’s a quick win
- It’s highly visible and easily measured.
- And it doesn’t cost very much.
In fact it simply requires the slick application of carrot and stick. (In this case “Would you like to stay alive?” and “Oh, so you’d prefer to die, then?”)
Of course, most issues can’t be resolved quite so easily. Conformance is all very well, but if it’s a grumbling, resentful and rebellious conformance then you are simply creating problems for the future.
You need to think about hearts and minds as well – even if you have a sneaking sympathy for Nixon’s famous remark that if you grab someone hard enough in an (in)appropriate place, their hearts and minds will follow.
‘I insist you will like this…’
Gerard Hoffnung’s words were intended to be ironic, but some managers seem to take them literally. And the truth is that if an action needs to be done just once, or on a very few occasions, then conformance is all that’s needed.
People don’t have to think about it. And they don’t have to like it. They just need to do it.
The same does not apply to actions that must be regularly repeated. Here the simple application of sticks and carrots is rarely going to achieve the change you are looking for.
That’s when you will need commitment.
And you will also need to understand how commitment can be recognised, and the inevitable problems involved in asking people with ingrained habits to change their behaviour.
Let’s face it, no one loves change. Just consider the fallout from the referendum in 2016 which committed the UK to leaving the European Union.
Some accepted it with enthusiasm.
Some found it deeply worrying. In their view no one seemed to have a worked-out strategy for achieving the change. And on one seemed to have any real understanding of the necessary process.
In the meantime, TV interviews suggested many voters had little or no idea what the EU was or what leaving it would entail.
The truth will not be fully known for many, many years – but its impact has already been compared with that of the English Reformation under Henry VIII.
And some historians believe that cataclysmic shift was at the roots of the English Civil War…
The three levels of change
Whatever your personal feelings about the referendum, it does illustrate an important point. Because all change – no matter how small – takes place at three levels:
- The task – answering the question ‘what are we doing?’
- The process – answering the question ‘how are we doing it – by what method?’
- And the emotional adjustment – the feelings people have about their present situation, and about the proposed change.
The last is frequently the most difficult and the most complex. That’s because it won’t just involve people’s reaction to the change itself. Often their emotional response is determined by past experience. And many will be carrying mental ‘baggage’ from other more (or less) successful processes.
All three levels are involved in any change scenario – and all three interact, in a very complex way, to build or destroy people’s commitment to the process.
And without commitment, there can be no effective change.
Of course, there are some situations where emotional commitment is irrelevant – where something has to be done simply because there is no alternative.
If a fire alarm goes off, for example, then it’s essential for everyone to leave the building, whether they want to or not.
But when the possibility of another option exists, there will always be those who prefer to follow it. So it’s vital to consider how, exactly, you can obtain the commitment you need.
Read more about conformance and commitment to change.
A few words about this blog:
Ever suffered a depressive episode? If you haven’t, it can be difficult to imagine what it’s like, or what impact it can have on your life.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our clients – and our suppliers – are human beings, with their own particular set of strengths and weaknesses. That can be particularly true of the creative people we rely on to provide the vital spark for our marketing, our social media content, our brochures and catalogues and even our branding and our business cards. A significant number of them are depressives. Frustratingly (for them) it often seems to come as part of their package.
This article – from a very talented writer – may help to put that in perspective. As well as showing how a well-established, reliable process makes it possible to cope, and more than cope.
Can’t remember… What was it again?
The conversation goes something like this.
“Have you left me a review of my book?”
“Well, of course I’ve left you a review! I beta-read that book for you. And I got a copy on its release day. Then I came to your release party. Of course I’ve left you a review. I said … I said … (pause) I didn’t leave you a review, did I?”
(Knock, knock.) “Hello?”
“Uh, hi. Have I come to the right house? You are expecting me? I have a consultation at 10am … (Blank horrified stare from me.) Oh, you weren’t expecting me, were you?”
“You did send that document off to the tax people, didn’t you?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sure I did.”
“So this envelope I’ve just found addressed to the tax people and clearly not posted has nothing to do with that …”
For me this is the scariest thing about my depressive episodes. Not the withdrawal from human contact, not the days sat shaking on the sofa, too weak to walk further than to the kitchen or bathroom, but the memory gaps. Or even worse, the false memories. Tasks undone or forgotten lie like landmines all over my personal and professional life. They frighten me.
There’s a very good clinical reason for these memory gaps. During depression, the part of the brain connected with memory shrinks. It’s as if part of the filing system has been thrown out. I can only assume that my false memories occur because the creative part of the brain (at least in my case) is unaffected and just makes up what I think must have occurred, rather than remembering what did actually occur.
It isn’t the words…
Now, I would be the first to admit that admin is not my strong point. If you want five hundred words on the inside of a ping pong ball by five o’clock then I’m your woman. If you need an impromptu ten minute speech on the importance of leg-warmers in popular Eighties culture, then just ask. But organising and keeping a filing system up to date… best look elsewhere for that one.
Even so, I like to keep my promises. I like to be professionally reliable. I like to be a responsible citizen who files tax returns on time.
So my challenge is to create, while well, robust and simple systems that will still work when I’m ill. I need visual reminders of what I need to do when. Even down to “System to follow when a client books an appointment.” I need a promise book.
Of course I don’t know that these reminders will be infallible. I think I will still need people around me to exercise a lot of tolerance and forgiveness when yet another of those depressive landmines explodes. But, by being responsible about it, I should at least minimize the casualties.
Written by Mary, a Moodscope member