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Why Is It So Difficult to Implement Change?

By Deb Calvert (1085 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on December 16, 2012

There are (17) comments permalink

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By Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions

As humans, we prefer a state called homeostasis. It’s the state in which a person’s relationship to the environment is stable. It’s in our very nature to strive for stability and resist change. Physically, we are wired for regulation that keeps our systems operating in a way that is stable and unchanging. Emotionally, we may cling to what or who is familiar.


You may have heard or read before that the top stressors for humans are related to making changes. Even positive changes like getting married, buying a home or starting a new job are highly stressful. Why? Because even when we are excited by the future possibilities, we are also apprehensive about the loss and transition we will experience as we make these changes.


We know, of course, that we are supposed to embrace change. In the workplace, being resistant to change is viewed negatively. Management teams don’t want to hear things like this:


  • That seems too risky.
  • I’ll wait to see how it works out.
  • It worked before, so I know it will work again.
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • This, too, shall pass.
  • Everything is fine.
  • It’s a slippery slope.


That’s why workplace change is often more difficult than it needs to be. Changes are announced or mandated, and expressions of resistance or even mild apprehensiveness are unwelcome. The expectation is that everyone will make the change immediately and happily. 


There are some techniques you can use to make change easier, whether you’re the one introducing change or the one being asked to accept change.


First, you might as well find ways to become a little more nimble. The pace of change in our society is unprecedented and no business will survive without stepping up its pace of change, too. We can’t avoid change and often can’t anticipate and control it either. So we might as well do our best to deal with it.


To make a change, remember that it is impossible to do the same old thing at the same time you are doing something different. You have to deliberately end the old way and then start the new way. As obvious as that may seem, it’s a frequent barrier to real and sustained change – people don’t want to let go. You’ve probably worked with some folks like this. I know one newspaper reporter who still writes his stories on a typewriter before copying his work into his desktop computer. Yes, he’s made a change – but the change he made added work instead of making his work easier to do. To experience the potential benefits of change, we have to give change a fair chance.


To make it easier for yourself to accept change, do your best to understand why the change is needed and what the long-term benefits will be. Focus then on the long-term. Sure, it may be more difficult for now to use a new system. Your learning curve and the bugs in the system are slowing you down. Don’t give up too soon. Once you have learned the system and the processes have been ironed out, you may find that it does, indeed, benefit you in some way.


If you are tasked with ushering in something new, be sure to follow these simple guidelines for introducing change:


  • Have a good reason for changing. Tell people what that reason is. Never make change just for the sake of change. It’s too traumatic.
  • Involve people in the change. Make it transparent and inclusive.
  • Employ the informal influencers and leaders to help champion the change you’re making.
  • Provide training to support and reinforce change.
  • Enlist outside help if there are specialized competencies needed to get things started.
  • Establish symbols of change, reminders and job aids to keep this change at the forefront.
  • Acknowledge & reward change – not just after it’s been made but as people are making an effort to get where you’d like them to be.


When you announce a change, be thoughtful about how people are going to feel and react. Remember that even positive change involves loss and transition.


You can use this 4-step method as an outline to script your change message. 


1)     Situation: What happened to cause the need for this change?


2)     Feeling: What emotional context is there?


3)     Effects: Be honest about how this will impact those involved.


4)     Needs/Wants: Describe the outcome you would like to see.


Finally, as people are making this change be sure to stay closely connected to them and to the change itself. If your attention and focus move on to something else too quickly, don’t be surprised when this change fails to take hold. Be sure you:


  • Allow time for adjustment.
  • Allow for errors, adjustments and learning.
  • Stay positive & focused on the benefits and outcomes.
  • Ask for & act on feedback from others.
  • Set a consistent example.


If you can keep these simple principles in mind, you will be effective as a change leader. Others will appreciate your support and will feel more comfortable making changes you’ve asked.  


Please join Deb's conversation in 'This Week's Discussion', located in our Workplace Communication Skills Community.


Written by Deb Calvert,

Workplace Communication Skills Expert for ManagingAmericans.com & President, People First Productivity Solutions.


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:

Eight Communication Tips to Gain Respect at Work

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Are Speaking Skills More Valued than Listening?

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Comments (17)

Ian Brownlee posted on: December 17, 2012

Two articles that add to the discussion: Language, psychology and a humanistic perspective on “Change Management".
Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-5s

PART 2: Linguistics, psychology and a humanistic perspective of change management: 6 Common Errors. A new & original article by Ian Brownlee
Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2guX2-8S

ben silver posted on: December 17, 2012

Change suggests that it is being done for the better. To see change as something of value, the comparison of what was and what will be has to be made by the individuals and the groups who consider to change. When we accept the new or the change, we are letting go of a system or a process that enabled us to survive up until the point before the change was made. If we consider how difficult it is to let go of things or habits that can easily be seen to hurt us, how much more difficult is it to let go of a system or way of life that has enabled us to survive. The change is emotional because the old way was successful and the new way does not guarantee the known results of the old way. The new way, however, is generally based on research and development and analysis that the new way will improve life. Of course, when change, or even new orders, are based on the whim (personal view or analysis) of a leader the only thing overcoming the group's insecurity is the leader's character.

Slim posted on: December 17, 2012

Impediments to executing strategy.
http://slimviews.blogspot.com/2010/11/impediments-to-executing-strategy.html and

Strategic Breakdowns. http://slimviews.blogspot.com/2010/11/nothing-succeeds-like-success.html

In a discussion about communications and leadership:

On management and leadership:

Perhaps the problem comes from higher up.

Do we promote people with good communication skills or do we attempt to teach communication skills to those whom we promote?

Substitute the word communication with the word leadership and we come closer to understanding the problem.

Warmest regards,

Cynthia Diehl posted on: December 18, 2012

This is definitely something I can implement as I'm training employees on how they need to change the way they interact and engage with their customers.

William Woloschuk posted on: December 18, 2012

To succeed in "Change" one needs to accept something different than the present Company culture, with a new vision and direction provided by it's CEO. So many projects have failed when the Sr. Manager are afraid of what 'change' means to
them, they should accept it and lead the rest.

Joseph Dubow posted on: December 18, 2012

To implement effective change there must be an element of trust. Trust motivates and inspires!

Derwood Brady posted on: December 18, 2012

A technique that aligns with many of the points in the article is the ADKAR model (Aware, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement). I often find that change implementers confuse making folks aware with creating desire. Awareness is communicating the need for the organizational change (obviously important). To create Desire, you must communicate to folks, "What’s in it for them". When an implementer gets Desire right, the implementation will go much more fluidly.

Ellie Pena-Benarroch posted on: December 21, 2012

Great information to share

Mike Campbell posted on: December 21, 2012

An interesting article, and all of the points are relevant.

I suggest that there are two elements that are of most importance:

1. The article talks about Informal Influencers. One of the challenges within a manufacturing environment is that often the change managers are dealing with supervisors and team leaders. These people may buy in to the change, but may not have the skills at effectively communicating that change to their team members. The change needs to be understood and supported by all levels within an organisation, and the most important group are the people on the shop floor that have to live with the change. Find team members that are well respected by others, and get them involved in the process. Your job as a change agent is to communicate to all levels effectively, As well as direct communication to the team, work on a one-to-one basis with the informal influencers. They will help convince the others.

Mike Campbell posted on: December 21, 2012

2. Have a good reason for the change: I am not a consultant, and hate consultant-speak , but I cannot really think of a better way of describing this so forgive me this once: Burning Platform... You have to create a burning platform environment.
Many people think that burning platforms are only when business is on the downhill slope. But there are many opportunities to create the same environment when business is increasing. "The order book is full, if we do not do something we will piss off our customers" "We are the best in our fileld, but the competition are snapping at our heels" And implementing a change in the middle of a boom is one very good way of ensuring that change happens very fast

Stéphane Parent posted on: December 21, 2012

One of the hurdles in implementing change is acknowledging that each person will be different. You cannot presume that everyone will accept the change at the same rate and with the same enthusiasm. Handling the variety of responses properly and giving everyone a chance to participate in the process, even if it's only to vent, will go a long way to facilitate the change.

Virginia Vickie Rocha Ortega posted on: December 29, 2012

All changes take time, changes effect routines that we get usto. Contract issues, decision making, lead role, even familiarity with the process one is usto years. Teaching others change that sometimes doesnt work for them is fun, hang in there, battle it till you get it cleared, then refer it for process implentation.

Martin Palmer posted on: January 2, 2013

Looking to do a course in the UK on "Change Management", any suggestion/pointers would be appreciated.

James Ridout posted on: February 5, 2013

I tend to take a different look at this. Everyone likes change as long as it is their change that is being implemented. Change for the sake of change is a tough sell, a "my way or the highway" might get you lip service but no dedication.
For change to be accepted it must be instituted on a cultural level. What does that mean? It means that change or the platforms for change and improvements must be built and supported. It means that communication must be in place that provides everyone with a meaningful opportunity to make contributions and change. Leadership must support a learning culture. Change must be data driven. The best learning organizations are not uni-directional or a top down but are a whirling dervish of ideas that must be thoughtfully discussed and actions taken.

Robert Chapman posted on: February 5, 2013

No one likes change but in some situations it is necessary to progress

Martin Palmer posted on: February 5, 2013

You need to have the "buy in" of your staff, keep them fully informed and explain the reasons behind the Change. Being left in the dark doesn't do your chances of a successful Change implementation being successful.

Jerome Appollis posted on: February 5, 2013

Right now our department is experiencing change and i must adapt now which is a challenge but also it opens you not to be stagnant but changing the daily routine for something new.

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