Resistance to change is a natural response and should be expected. Change management is all about planning for and executing specific tasks to reach desired goals while considering people, processes, and the organization. At the most basic level, change management is about transition planning, forecasting potential resistance areas, and putting into action enterprise-wide efforts to address cultural influences or other barriers to change. To be successful in any organizational change efforts, planning, evaluating, and guiding are necessary at the beginning and throughout the change process. This process should continue until new ways are adopted fully into the culture; otherwise, you risk slipping back into previous behaviors.
An early form of change management theory was developed by social psychologist Kurt Lewin. His supporting theory is as follows:
Lewin described a change process as a three-stage process; he called the first stage the “unfreezing” stage. The unfreezing stage involves “overcoming inertia and dismantling existing “mindsets,” these defense mechanisms must be bypassed in order to survive (Lewin, 1947). The second stage of Lewin’s theory of change processes is where he asserts the actual change occurs; this stage is marked by transition and confusion. At this stage, people become aware of the fact that our standard way of thinking or doing things is being challenged, however, we are not quite sure how to replace them. The “freezing” is the final stage, at this point, the new mindset has become more clear, and we become more comfortable with the new norm of thinking (Lewin, 1947). Lewin’s three-step process has played an important role in laying the foundation for implementing change in organizations today.
The change process described above can be viewed as the typical ‘phases’ that organizations encounter when initiating large-scale change efforts. The time spent in each phase will vary based on how strong the culture is within an organization and how the initiative interacts with the current norms and beliefs.
Common organizational roadblocks to plan for when implementing change:
- Commitment – Find early adopters who can champion the cause for the organization; strive for individual commitments from all key people. Ask people for their input on what they like, and dislike.
- Authority – Get executive involvement, ownership, and engagement. Create a situation where the executives can share the vision and answer questions from those that have concerns.
- Time – Ensure the organization has prioritized and communicated the expectation for the initiative. Delay if the timing is not right.
- Confusion – Use open and honest communication; address concerns quickly to avoid stagnation.
- Competing priorities – Get the required resources allocated before you start. Delay if resources are not committed.
- Hesitation – Find and schedule education/training sessions. People will feel empowered when they have the knowledge.
In the words of Winston Churchill, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”