We are constantly hearing about change. Change in the political environment, change in the economic environment, change in our personal lives and change in the business environment. Change has become part of everyone’s life. For instance, no one uses a briefcase-sized cell phone anymore, and mimeograph machines have long been relegated to the storage room. Change is something that we all accept and conform with.
But the question that still confounds us is: “Why is change so hard to effectively and efficiently implement in the work environment?” People can accept changes, like those that arise from a Six Sigma deployment, but most of the time getting change to stick in an organization is only possible after months of pain and agony. Many senior executives will admit that asking their employees to go to the dentist for a root canal without any form of pain killer is easier than obtaining buy-in from their employees when changing processes or procedures.
Why is change so difficult? The answer lies in how people are innately hardwired and how that hardwiring affects how they accept and buy in to that change. How people are hardwired to respond when faced with change can be objectively measured, however, and organizations may use this measureable data to achieve better results.
Aspects of Change
People usually respond to change in different ways based on their personality. In particular, there are four aspects of change that can be adapted to fit the needs of individual employees:
- Idea acceptance
- Thought processing
- Speed of change
- Amount of information
By taking these areas into consideration, it is possible to design a plan for implementing change that will please everyone in an organization.
1. Idea Acceptance
There are basically two types of ways people will accept the ideas that create change in an organization. Some individuals prefer to hear all of the options available, evaluate them and then decide on the best course of action. Others need to have their thumbprint on ideas to take ownership in them before they can embrace the design of change.
The two perspectives on idea acceptance are a direct function of someone’s personality. Those who do want to hear all the options can be passively resistant to the change agenda if they believe that the agenda is being forced on them without a chance to adequately evaluate all options. Those who need to put their thumbprint on an agenda will be actively aggressive in fighting the change if they do not believe they have a vested interest in how the agenda was created.
Strategy: Create the agenda for change with several options, with a specific timetable for when the ideal option must be decided on. Once the best course of action is decided, allow enough wiggle room in the agenda to allow others to take ownership (thumbprint) on the area for which they have personal responsibility.
2. Thought Processing
People process or synthesize thought either internally or externally. Internal thought processors do best when they have time to internalize ideas and concepts, while external thought processors do best when they can verbally kick issues around.
If an internal thinker has not had the necessary time to absorb and think through a new change agenda, they will be resistant to that change. Conversely, external or verbal thinkers need time to openly discuss the issue to create their level of buy-in. If a new program is being introduced and the verbal thinkers have not had time to discuss the plan openly, resistance will occur because the verbal thinker will feel that they are not being recognized as an important cog in the change machine.
Strategy: Publish the program for change (with the various options) in advance of the meeting so internal thinkers can synthesize this information and come prepared with their best input. Should the agenda change due to new items introduced at the meeting, provide the internal thinkers some time to properly digest this information prior to deciding on a course of action. Verbal thinkers will adjust to new information as it is introduced during a meeting – just as long as they can verbalize the new data.
3. Speed of Change
By their innate nature, some people embrace quick change and thus, enjoy environments that are constantly changing. These are the people who want to juggle many things at the same time and, to some degree, enjoy the pressure of a changing workplace. Others want change introduced in phases so they can completely understand all of the steps involved in the change. These individuals are more likely to process their work in a particular, sequentially driven order because they enjoy having a plan and following every step of that plan.
Jugglers like the idea of change because it introduces an element of unpredictability into their workplace. They do not need to know all of the steps involved in the plan – just the basics of what the plan involves and how fast the change can be implemented. Those who are more sequentially wired like knowing the plan, all steps of the plan and being able to follow that plan as it is laid out. They thrive on the predictability of their environment. When change is introduced quickly, without time for them to digest and follow the plan, push-back will occur; they will do things in the manner they are most accustomed to and fight the new way or the change being introduced.
Strategy: Change can be implemented within an organization that takes into consideration both factors mentioned above. After the ideal plan of action has been developed, it should be introduced in stages. Phased-in change will allow those who want time to adjust and follow the plan to prepare for the change. This approach will actually create faster change within the organization as well (satisfying those who want it now). It will be faster because it will reduce the amount of push-back created by those who want to follow the plan by reducing the amount of pressure they feel during the change process.
4. Amount of Information Needed to Accept Change
The last factor to consider in change is how much information a person needs to be comfortable with the new way of doing work within the organization. Some people simply want the critical highlights of information. They are comfortable with the executive summary outlining the important points of information – just the basics. Others want a good degree of proven information and data as to why the change is being introduced, why it is necessary, and who the subject matter experts are to support the reasoning for why the change is needed and should be implemented.
Strategy: Provide the outline for the new program as an executive summary. Under each of the critical points, explain the reason why the change makes sense for the organization. Also, outline the pros and cons of the change; this will show that all aspects of the new program have been evaluated. That simple format will provide the information people desire to buy in effectively to the change the organization seeks.
Meet All Needs
All people will accept change. Catering to the needs of each member of an organization by meeting their needs for accepting and buying-in to the change – based on their unique hardwiring – will allow for change to be introduced, accepted and implemented in the shortest time possible. By understanding how people are hardwired, every organization can accomplish change, without all of the usual accompanying headaches.