Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why is change so HARD for organizations???

It’s painful to change. It’s uncomfortable. It’s difficult. And avoiding pain is innate.

Change often is frightening and scary as people face the unknown.  People in organizations may lack the desire to change as it brings uncertainty and additional work and it feels uncomfortabe, leading people to resist change. Gallup in this blog post by Chee Tung, identifies what behavior economics terms "status quo bias (preference for keeping things the same) and loss aversion (the tendency to prefer avoiding losses more strongly than acquiring gains)" as psychological barriers to creating change in an organization. 

However, as the article Convergence highlights, nonprofits will face rapidly changing challenges that they will need to adapt to, including demographic shifts, technological advances, sectors are blurring, interest in volunteerism is rising, and opportunities for networking and collaboration are increasing. 

Below I will go over some ways to overcome barriers to change:

Strong sense of mission and vision for the organization
With a strong sense of the mission and vision of the organization (through strategic planning), organizations can stand back and recognize upcoming challenges and opportunities.  People in the organization can identify why they are doing what they are doing and where they are going by doing what they are doing.  Identifying mission and vision can help show why change is necessary and what changes need to occur.  It can also help relieve the fear of change as leading to the unknown by clarifying what the change will be and how it will affect the organization.

Going through the process of strategic planning can identify what to change and why.  Strategic planning can also be part of bringing people on board with change leading to:

Engaging stakeholders, motivating people
Part of the strategic process is engaging the organization's stakeholders.  Not just the leadership need to be on board with the change, but also employees, clients, volunteers, and other stakeholders.  They need to know why a change is happening, but also be emotional invested in the change.

Jack Welch in an HBR interview offers an example of a leader attempting to release what he terms "emotional energy" at GE by transforming attitudes and encouraging feelings of ownership and self-worth.

For rational and emotional investment to occur, people need to have the resources so that they can accomplish the change:

Making sure resources are available
Change often requires resources to implement, including tools, space, skills and time.  For change to be successful, all appropriate resources need to be available.

Often one only thinks of the physical objects one might need.  In Strategic Intent, Hamel and Prahalad also identify that providing employees with the skills they need to implement the change.  To provide these skills might mean trainings, collaborating with other organizations, hiring new staff, etc.  New staff or new programming might also require more space be available.

Hamel and Prahalad also highlight time as an important part of successful change.  Organizations need time to digest change.  People need time to become acclimated, to develop new processes, and to work on the kinks leading to:

Allowing failure and adaptation
Even with the most thoughtful and comprehensive strategic planning, things will arise that were not planned for.  In addition, making changes within an organization often means that mid-process tweaks will occur.  It is important that throughout the process, there is space for adaptation.  In addition, failure will happen.  If failure is framed as a learning experience and as part of the process of change, then people in the organizations will more likely to move forward with change, take risks in the process, and creativity engage.

Allowing for failure and adaptation can lessen the pain of change.  Leaders are an integral part of opening space for and communicating that failure and adaptation is part of the process.

All of these suggestions lead to Transformational Leadership
In Cameron's Transformational Leadership, transformational leaders take their organizations through the steps I identified above, but locates the leader as the driver of the process.  Leaders can signal a shift by "instituting symbolic events" by indicating that the past is dead and "creating a new language" to create different interpretations of the old way and the new way for the organization.  Part of the language change is making the vision for the future interesting, compelling, and personal. Leaders also need to engage both the rational and the emotional sides of people in their organization to generate commitment to change.  Leaders also need to continue to communicate the vision over time.

In sum, change is hard.   But change is necessary and often rewarding.