The management of change can be personally frightening for many leaders. They fear criticism and personal attacks from associates and superiors. Most importantly, they dread the potential failure associated with change and the possible impact of such failure on their career.
Most organizations make it easier to say “no” to a project that is associated with change than to approve one. When they reject a project, managers protect themselves from having to justify tough decisions and facing the criticism that comes with a failing project.
Moreover, when approving a project, many managers discover they are forced to work harder, take more risks and suffer more criticism than they are prepared to deal with. And if they do fail, they often discover that the less innovative and more risk-averse associates are rewarded by the organization.
This is important for leaders to understand because if the above scenario is a reality in their organization, it places a damper on their ability to innovate in the face of change. However, innovative leaders can take solace in the fact that much of the undue criticism heaped upon them is often based on misdirected frustrations; in fact, individuals are often unhappy with what is already happening in their organization, but have a hard time grasping the need to evolve to maintain or renew success.
Leaders must come up with ways to overcome this internal inertia as part of their responsibility to manage change in their organization.
Organizations can and will change—it is a matter of choice. Leaders faced with the responsibility of managing change in their organization must overcome the specific challenges described below if they want to be successful.
Fear on all levels is the biggest challenge for leaders. There may be several ways for leaders to use early successes and ideas that can be tested and refined, and then leverage them into more substantial achievements.
However, they are often faced with senior management’s fear of failure and their own fear of being criticized by investors, customers and even the competition. Often leaders can hesitate to enact change simply because it might affect just a few customers, even if that same change can increase the satisfaction of the majority of their clients.
Dealing with Committees
Leaders should understand that committees in most organizations are one of the primary barriers to change. While small committees can be effective, large groups can be impossible to deal with.
In fact, most organizations make it easy for a single committee member to say “no” and veto a new idea or concept—thus requiring a unanimous “yes” for anything to move forward. Consequently, the larger the committee, the longer it will take a leader to convince each member that a new concept or idea is worthwhile.
For most critics, adopting a new idea, concept or strategy means turning away from the focus that is currently making the organization successful. Most of these critics see change not as an evolution of ideas and concepts that makes the organization better, faster and more competitive, but as a zero-sum game where one side wins at the expense of the other. The arguments they espouse are often formed by their personal fear of failure.
Leaders can effectually deal with such critics by setting ground rules for criticism, including:
- Criticize an idea based on how well it meets its objectives. If the critics don’t care for the objectives, then the objectives must be discussed as a separate matter.
- Weigh the idea against the status quo, being sure to look at present failures and problems.
- If a critic doesn’t like an idea, he or she must come up with an alternative. A lack of a solution is not an acceptable solution.
- Criticism for criticism’s sake should not be tolerated, nor should personal attacks.
Redefine Change and Failure
One of the biggest aspects of managing change is in redefining the rules. What was acceptable in the past may not be acceptable in the current climate of change. Therefore, leaders must redefine failure as it pertains to the organization.
The fear of failure results in inertia as organizations struggle to maintain the status quo. And, ironically, maintaining the status quo in the face of change will always result in failure. As previously stated, a lack of a solution is not an acceptable solution.
Additionally, leaders must redefine change within the organization. They must make it clear that continuous change is the normal state of affairs. Accordingly, it must be redefined as something that is an expected part of every normal job, not something that is a cause for panic and anxiety.
If individuals accept this reformulation, then risk will automatically be redefined; when change is a normal part one’s job, the risks associated with change are thus minimized. This shift in perspective helps reduce personal levels of stress and anxiety and makes the responsibility of managing change easier as leaders help their organization evolve through small, incremental steps.
Excerpt: Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)