Resilience is probably THE buzzword of our time. Everyone is looking for people that are easy to adapt to changing situations. Because those who are not are wasting our time. That’s at least what some managers seem to think. While actually, this train of thought pushes the results of bad change management to the people.
Being resilient in biz-talk nowadays means that you can cope with change, adopt to a changing environment without too much struggles, and be productive after a very short transition period. Or something like that. You see this term a lot, HR uses it like the holy grail. The reason behind this is, that slowly people start understanding, that most change projects fail. But they also start understanding that the amount of necessary change is increasing. So they’re looking for people who can deal with change easily, resilient people.
What they often ignore is, what it is the people are struggling with. And why. So instead of solving a problem, it is just being shifted to someone else. Often striving for resilient people tries to cover up bad change management.
The managers’ problem: Resistance
In every organizational change there is the moment, when people are supposed to do something differently than they did before. The change manager is very happy if this works fine, and not so happy if it doesn’t. When people do not adapt to this new way of dealing with it, we call this resistance. This is what resilient people should not show.
According to Doppler & Lauterburg (2002) there are 4 reasons of resistance:
- The people do not understand what this is about.
- The people do not understand the goals/background/motivation of the change.
- The people do not believe/trust in what they are being told.
- The people understand the change, but can’t follow for specific reasons.
While the first three reasons speak for themselves, the last one might be confusing. Sometimes, people don’t dare to follow a change, because of social pressure (e.g. through internal hierarchies), financial aspects or insecurity. Sometimes people are simply not able to do what they’re expected to do, because they lack the knowledge, support or tools.
All of them are very good reasons for an individual to resist the change. What needs to be done then is to take it very serious. Only when you deal with a person’s resistance, you can solve it. This often is very silent, only few express their frustration. Typical signs of resistance are dropping performance, passive aggressive behavior, low motivation, people are holing up or in denial.
One thing is for sure: whenever there is change, there’s always resistance. Hence you want to look out for it and try to detect it. What many Change Agents fail to understand is that resistance always holds a hidden message. Solving the resistance should be your highest priority, because if not dealt with, resistance resolves into a block. And then you really have a problem. Hence, it is crucial to not work against the resistance, but with it. Take the people and their problems serious, only then you’ll be able to help them find answers to their questions and only then they will evolve into motivated people.
3 Stages of Change Management
We know already, that whenever there’s change, there’s also resistance. If there’s no resistance, we’re probably not really changing anything. But we can aim for as low resistance as possible. This is change management. And basically the idea is nothing new at all. Kurt Lewin defined his theory of change in 1947, at it hasn’t really changed since. There are 3 basic stages: unfreeze, change, freeze.
Stage 1: Unfreeze
Tichy later called this stage the “waking up”. This is where we’re setting the motivation. What is the current situation and what is the problem with it or its consequences? This is very difficult to grasp, so a simple leaflet does not do the trick. Making sure that the whole organization understands why change has to occure is the crucial prerequisite. People have to be eager to change. If they are not, there will be resistance. The four reasons of resistance above show that the unfreezing was not successful.
Stage 2: Change
Once, everyone understood the necessity to change, you have to go for it. Now this might sound not as complex as it actually is. Because just because people understand a problem, that doesn’t mean that the whole crowd agrees to the same solution. So this stage describes the transition phase, from old to new. If people are not okay with an approach or are not included or feel like their voices are not being heard, resistance can build up here, easily.
Stage 3: Freeze
This sounds a little martial, what happens in this stage is that whatever was new before, becomes naturally, state of the art. Today we know that change is never finished, and we have to keep adopting. What became the state of the art yesterday might be a problem tomorrow, and the process has to start over. While that might very well be, this marks the end point for a process. It helps people to understand that their activities come to an end and before the next one begins.
Resistance is a good thing. It helps you identifying the gaps of your change management strategy. It’s crucial that resistance does not just appear in specific hierarchy levels. Everyone, including the CEO can show resistance.
Usually resistance a sign that the people have not been properly included, they don’t feel like their concerns are being heard. And this is fundamental thing for everyone: Feel taken seriously. A successful change management process hence includes a very detailed stakeholder analysis and involves the different people at appropriate moments, as early as possible.
So listen. Listen carefully. I know, that requires a lot of patience, and just hiring resilient people sounds easier. But that’s just a fad, no one is resistance-prone. But when people feel like they’ve been heard, you have their engagement. And maybe that makes it worth the effort.