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‘Leading change in large organisations is hard work and offers little instant pexels-photo-109919

Notwithstanding all the process and systems changes that have to be implemented to the finest level of detail, it’s the human side – or the human resistance side – that can be the biggest hurdle.

The results can be frustrating.

What about the systems upgrade project that takes months and months to deliver and is finally declared a success only for managers in finance still to be using spreadsheets to do month end – because that’s the way it’s always been done? Or the introduction of the new Human Resources system that leave staff disillusioned and lost because they don’t feel as if they were consulted and are poorly trained when go-live comes along?

Kotter writes that ‘although experienced managers are generally all too aware of this fact, surprisingly few take time before an organisational change to assess systematically who might resist the change initiative and for what reasons.’ (Harvard Business Review: Winter 2014).

A starting point – even before assessing how the work of different groups of staff are impacted – is to develop a high level analysis about where the affected teams sit in relation to the change effort.

Consider categorising teams into one of four groups:

  1. Can change and will change – these are people who have the ability to change (they have enough resource, skills, time and motivation) and will go through with the change (they might have a visionary leader or stand to benefit from the change). These people are role models for the change and could be a catalyst to lift the change effort right across the organisation.
  2. Can’t change but will change – these are people who are willing to change – they see the programme as a good thing from which they will benefit – but lack the ability to change successfully for some reason. This might be because of lack of resource or skill or experience. The strategy with this group of staff is to bridge the gap and concentrate on giving them the ability to carry out the change. This could mean introducing a temporary resource or upskilling some of the existing team.
  3. Can change but won’t change – these are the most difficult group. They have the ability to change but, for whatever reason, they are going to be difficult to change. For example, they fear their self-interest will be damaged, there is a lack of trust or they’re afraid they will not be able to develop the new skills needed. The result is they show no support for the change programme. Strategies for this group could include more detailed communication of the change vision and progress made. A greater amount of training and higher levels of staff involvement may need to be put into the plans. There also needs to be very clear demonstration of quick wins and progress. This group will also need to understand clearly what is in it for them and how benefits will come about.
  4. Can’t change and won’t change – these are people who lack the skills and resources to change and who will protect the current ways of working. One technique is to give an honest assessment of how important they are to the change programme as often an option is to sideline such groups. Otherwise a combination of the approaches discussed above will need to be considered.

As Kotter says, ‘individuals and groups can react very differently to change.’ A simple model that categorises those affected at this high level can be a good starting point to support later change activities.

Image by John O’Neill

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