In the dim and distant past, change was something that happened infrequently. Even if an organization had multiple initiatives running concurrently, they would not necessarily involve the same people.
A lot has changed since then. Change has become a continuous aspect of almost every business and is one we all struggle to keep up with from time to time.
But one thing hasn’t changed: The same old myths and misconceptions about change management are still being circulated. And, unfortunately, a lot of people still believe them.
In this article, we’ll highlight – and dispel – some of the most egregious examples.
Myth #1: We Need to Teach People to Implement and Accept Change
It’s easy to assume that if you could just get people to accept the change project you’re working on, everything would move forward as it should. However, this assumption misses a basic fact. Today people aren’t being asked to accept one change. They’re being asked to accept constant change.
Employees at most organizations are bombarded with change messaging on an almost-daily basis. Many people can become fatigued even before any change initiatives get underway because they are constantly being bothered about all the changes they’ll have to accept within the near future. At the most basic level, it’s hard even to process the amount of information people are fed about upcoming changes.
At the same time, employees are no longer able to rely on skills and systems they have become experts in. They are constantly being asked to start over with new systems and develop new skills. So, when you’re planning the implementation and communication of a new change initiative, remember that your agenda isn’t the only one your employees are being asked to accept.
Look for ways to support people through their journey of navigating constant change. It’s a marathon – not a sprint – and people need support and guidance throughout their entire change journey to navigate continuous change successfully.
Myth #2: Success Relies on Communicating Your Message Effectively
With change initiatives, there’s a lot of focus on communication. After all, how will you get people to buy in if you don’t properly communicate the need for (and value of) each initiative?
However, communication plans often make one huge mistake – they focus on one-way communication.
Often, organizations try to “sell” change initiatives, and, in the process, set up unrealistic expectations while leaving out any unpleasant surprises that might be lurking along the way. This approach can certainly help build some initial momentum, but people quickly become frustrated and resist changes once reality sets in.
Instead of bombarding people with your message, try to engage in two-way communication. Ideally, you want to understand how people are processing your communications and answer any questions or concerns they may have. At the same time, use your communications to manage expectations for your initiative and acknowledge any negative effects it may have, so there are no unpleasant surprises.
If you do this right, you’ll disarm a lot of change fatigue and lay the groundwork for success.
Myth #3: Facts Make People Change
In a workforce comprised of robots, making a logical argument with supporting evidence would be enough to change behaviors.
When you’re working with people, however, this simply doesn’t work. People simply have too many emotions, incentives, and fears that need to be overcome before they can fully accept a change initiative. If facts aren’t enough to overcome this, what is?
According to Gartner, “Employees with a clear sense of belonging and connection have a capacity to change 1.8 times larger than if they don’t.”
To win over your employees, you need to establish two things:
- The behaviors needed for success; and,
- How they connect to a greater (and clearly beneficial) vision.
Make it clear precisely what behaviors each individual or team will have to exhibit to enable your change initiative to succeed. Then, connect those behaviors directly to an overarching vision that demonstrates how your initiative will add value for the organization, its customers, and its employees.
Myth #4: Change Takes a Long Time
Over time, many of us have developed the belief that making any significant change will inevitably take a long time – often years. However, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that huge changes can be pushed through in a very short space of time.
As a result of COVID-19:
- Digitization of customer, supply chain, and internal operations has accelerated by 3-4 years.
- The share of digital or digitally-enabled products in portfolios has accelerated by seven years.
In many cases, initiatives that many people believed would never be possible were pushed through in weeks. How did all this happen? Through sheer necessity.
2020 has demonstrated that for change to happen extremely quickly, it just requires three things:
- A clear ‘burning platform’.
- A collective cause that inspires huge momentum.
- A lack of choice.
This year, we learned that a global pandemic that forced millions of us into our homes for weeks at a time was enough to force through digital transformation and remote working initiatives that could otherwise have taken up to a decade.
Through lack of choice, organizations all around the world made decisions about new technologies and processes in hours instead of months. And, because they had no choice, employees learned how to use those systems and processes overnight with zero resistance.
Myth #5: People Don’t Like Change
“People don’t like change,” is a widely accepted fact. It’s also completely untrue.
In reality, people usually don’t mind change. They just don’t like being forced to change by other people.
To overcome this dislike, people need to understand why the change is necessary, and how it will contribute to a better future for the organization, its customers, and, ultimately, them. If you don’t successfully win their hearts and minds – in other words, get them to ‘buy-in’ – people will almost always resist change in one way or another.
But still, that’s not enough.
Once they buy into a change initiative, people still need the right tools and support to help them change. Depending on the initiative, this might include new technology, training, help, and/or advice – not just before go-live, but throughout the early stages of their change journey.
So, before you assume that people don’t like change, make sure you have everything in place to support them before, during, and after your go-live date. We’re not saying this will totally disarm change resistance… but it’ll get you much closer.
How To Manage Change that Never Stops
It’s tempting to treat change initiatives like one-off occurrences. If you could just get people to accept this change, everything could get back to normal.
But that’s just not realistic. The fact is that, in today’s climate, change is no longer the exception – it’s the rule. Employees at most organizations are asked to accept a constant barrage of changes… and there’s no end in sight. There never will be because organizations themselves are forced to continually adapt and evolve to keep up with customer needs and demands.
So, how do you manage change… when it never stops?
Recently, I co-hosted a webinar with Clarizen to demystify the process for sustaining change. I also shared some lessons I’ve learned over the last decade about implementing organization-wide change – and how to make the changes stick.
Watch the on-demand webinar to learn:
- Why digital transformation isn’t just about technology, it’s about people and technology – and the intersection between the two.
- The real reason why organizations struggle to implement continuous change. Hint: it’s not just about “change fatigue.”
- Why it doesn’t work when leaders simply act as “cheerleaders” for change projects… and what they should do instead.
- How to think about navigating constant change as opposed to managing change at an individual project level.
- How to sustain change momentum when the initial burning objective isn’t as apparent.
I hope you’ll find the information valuable and you’ll be able to immediately put some of the ideas into action to help your own organization better manage change today.