Overcoming Obstacles

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Achieving successful change inevitably means overcoming obstacles, so here are some practical ideas that really do work

People always resist change

This appears to be a valid generalisation but is often a myth! Look and listen more closely and what you may find is that people resist change that is imposed. Try asking people if everything about their lives, their community and their environment is satisfactory. That often produces the answer 'no'. Now ask "what could be improved?" then listen carefully. People want change that they believe will make their world better, they then want some involvement in how change is introduced and managed and to share in assessing whether progress is being achieved along the lines expected. The changes people want may be the same as those that would have been proposed but there is an enormous difference in having taken part in the process of deciding what to change.

It's all very well for youngsters but older people are set in their ways

This is not always true. Some 'youngsters' can be just as stubborn as 'older people'. Likewise some older people welcome new challenges - that they have chosen for themselves. Consider how parents get on when they try to determine every move of their children, especially teenagers. The resistance encountered is often massive - but again it is usually the denial of choice that is causing the problem. Now consider adults as they approach retirement. A few relish the idea of 'doing absolutely nothing', but many more look for new interests and activities that they never had the time or opportunity to pursue while they were working full time and/or the children were growing up. A survey to find out who was using computers at home for the first time and joining the internet produced an unexpectedly high usage among people over 60. Look also at the growth in cruise holidays and participation in 'university of the third age' to discover an amazing amount of changes that older people have initiated for themselves - but all self-chosen.

People don't want responsibility

A sales division of a large multinational that had experienced market expansion for decades had to be slimmed down because the market was declining with no expected return to growth. This happened at a time when information technology made it possible to make sales representatives more responsible for pricing decisions. All managers in the division took part in the process of analysing the situation, reviewing the options for change, selecting the most appropriate structure for the future and facing up to the need for redundancies. Some welcomed the opportunity to start a new life, others stayed and accepted the need to learn how to use computers and take on more responsibility at work. Many of the more senior people lost their smart offices and prestigious titles. About a year after the changes had been introduced many of those who stayed were saying:

The pay off was that the division changed from being a low performer with poor morale and which no one from other divisions wanted to work in, to one that became a high performer, with good morale and an attractive place to work. It illustrates how change can be introduced by involving those that are affected, gaining ownership for 'painful' changes, passing responsibility down the line, and producing results that exceed expectations.

It's all very well for them, but we couldn't do that here!

Asking the question "why not?" will often lead to an argument, but try asking other questions "so, what could you do here?" If that fails to stimulate ideas follow up with "are you satisfied with everything as it is?", and even "you mean to say that there is nothing at all that you would like to improve". Notice that the follow up questions avoid the use of the word 'change' which can trigger negative feelings because the belief that 'people resist change' is so widely believed.

Beware of 'sensitive' words

Organisations, departments and individuals all have their own history of change. Key words are often associated with these changes and if this didn't work out the use of one of these 'sensitive' words quickly triggers negative feelings; you can almost see the 'shutters being closed'. The best way to discover the 'sensitive' words associated with negative feelings is to listen carefully to a cross-section of people in the appropriate department or organisation talking about their experiences. As they talk listen for key words used often with negative associations, along the way you may also hear other words which have positive or neutral connotations. When dealing with change in this organisation avoid the words that trigger negative feelings. Instead, try to identify and use words that are neutral or have a positive reaction and use them. Likewise beware of key words that you use because they have positive associations for you, because this may not be the same for others. Each organisation, department and individual is different.

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New page introduced 23 August 1999.