I received an email recently from someone I don’t know very well directing me to do something.  Not asking, but telling. 

It was curt and commanding and it made me bristle.  It also made me dig my heals in and not want to do what I was being asked.  There were no pleasantries and no explanation of why this change was required.

No amount of emotional intelligence or self-awareness stops us reacting to poorly managed change.  Sure, we might be more aware of what we are feeling and why, but we still get our buttons pushed.

I’ve spent my working life helping individuals and organisations lead successful change and transformation and have formal qualifications in this space. As a result I know what makes change so hard, and in some cases – way harder than it needs to be.

Here’s my top three reasons why change is so hard, and importantly, what you can do to avoid the pitfalls.  

Reason No. 1: People don’t like being told what to do.  And when people are pushed, they push back.

It is far more constructive to develop compelling communications (written or verbal) that help people make their own decision to engage in the change.  Clever change practitioners can help you do that.

I spend a lot of time with my change coaching and consulting clients developing change communication frameworks to help this go smoothly.  It’s not the same as a general comms strategy – it has specific change methodology woven within it and caters specifically to the individuals being impacted by the change.

We need to ensure we are crafting a compelling reason for change and framing messages in a way that is scientifically proven to reduce resistance (reduce, not stop – resistance is a normal part of change). 

When people understand they have a menu of choices and feel more control it helps them to move off the starting blocks without digging their heals in and gives you some momentum.
 
Reason No. 2:  The change gap is too wide.  Chunk it down.

Be cognizant of the starting place (the current state), the desired future state and the size of the change gap – individually or organizationally.

Most of us can understand how this applies if we think about goals such as to lose weight or build fitness.  We don’t immediately start off saying we want to run 30km today. Or we want to lose 20kgs this month.  It’s a surefire way to lose motivation and give up because the change gap is too big.  We start small.  I’m going to run 2km today. Or I want to lose 3kg this month. 

Completing these smaller steps gives us a sense of achievement and reward and fuels our motivation for the long change journey ahead.  Workplace change is no different.

Organisationally, you need to sell the desired future state, but create steppingstones for people along the way so they can progressively make it to the other side and not have to make a giant leap.
 
Reason No. 3:  We don’t create space for the change or prioritise it.

Change of any form requires cognitive and emotional space. 

People are deeply rooted in the current state.  Have you ever listened to someone complain about their current state but as soon as you suggest some changes they bunker down and hold tight to the here and now? 

It’s human nature.  We are firmly attached to our current state because we know (even if it bugs us) that we can function within it.

A future state vision no matter how compelling still brings uncertainty. We don’t know for sure what that will look like or if we will be okay in that new state.  This is the primary reason for so much resistance and reactance and emotional dysregulation during change.  It’s uncertain.

It is nearly impossible for change leads and those having to make change to be able to navigate all of this without having some mental space to do so. 

If the change is important you need to ruthlessly prioritise so people have the cognitive capacity to understand and embrace the change and learn how to work in new ways.

Whilst your first instinct might be that “we don’t have time for that” think about whether you have time to spend six months longer trying to get people into the future state, or to navigate the emotional dysregulation and tensions, or time to start all over again when the change fails. 

Change fatigue is a modern-day reality, and it comes from too many changes simultaneously or continuously being implemented (change saturation) that exceeds the individual’s capacity to absorb and adopt the change.  Change takes extra energy.  Create the space.

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As a Prosci Certified Change Practitioner I have access to a suite of diagnostics and resources that help support change leads (those who have been tapped on the shoulder internally to drive a change) to get the results whilst preserving culture and wellbeing.

More importantly, that help ensure your future change initiatives will also be successful. If you need help in this space reach out.

In the meantime, here’s some resources you can access to help you navigate successful change:

My Cracking the Change Code (TM) program. 

I work 1:1 (or 1: Change Leads Group) with change leads to help your change be successful.  Consulting, coaching, change design and planning.  This is a six month program with intensive change support at a fixed price.
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Tanya Heaney-Voogt

Director & Principal Consultant
MBA, ICFACC, MAHRI, Dip Mgt, Dip Coaching, Prosci® Certified Change Practitioner
E: tanya@tanyaheaneyvoogt.com

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