Expect to introduce change? Expect to get push back (and beware of employees who don’t push back!)

Date –
June, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, Wednesday, a little after 6pm, and I was part of the busy crowd of executives in midtown Manhattan rushing towards home. Except I wasn’t destined to go home quite yet, but was heading to a presentation on how to successfully implement change.

In addition to his speech on Five reasons why change efforts fail, Antoine Gerschel (a dear colleague and fellow alumnus of my alma mater), was going to introduce his new book, Perfect Phrases for Communicating Change. And the icing on the cake was the venue: the personal home of the Consul General of Switzerland.

As I entered 640 Park Avenue – an exclusive limestone-clad building with only one unit per floor – I am greeted by a pristine and calm ambience, and a friendly doorman. What a change of scenery – surely this change is good!

Gerschel’s five caveats of how change can be sabotaged were very interesting. What struck me most was the part when he discussed resistance to change. He started by asking for a volunteer in the audience. A young executive stood up and Antoine put out his hands and the volunteer did the same – pressing his hands against his. We could see Antoine push slightly, and he got slight push back (an intuitive response by the volunteer…). What did this simple but powerful demo showcase? When you push for change (even if it involves only a change in position), expect to get push back.

Part of helping organizations and individuals manage change successfully is taking into account the change-readiness of the individual at the beginning of the change process. As Antoine Gerschel pointed out, asking people to change their behaviour initially causes resistance at some level. Studies have shown that at least 80% of employees are either wary of, or resolutely opposed to change.

Interestingly, Gerschel points out: “I am concerned, really concerned if an employee states: “it’s all good, been there, done that, no problem.” It is key to understand whether they are in favour of change for the right reason (i.e. an early buy-in to the proposed changes) or whether they have mentally checked out, and may become a problem later when not only the good, but also the not so good consequences of a proposed change become more apparent.

So, if you’re looking into changing processes, or even looking at major change projects, make sure you take a closer look as to why employees are resisting change, but also check out why they are not.