It’s one thing to make changes when you’ve decided to do something different. It’s quite another thing to make changes in order to comply with new requirements, rules, and regulations. This issue of The Harper Report provides you with tips for moving forward under these difficult circumstances.
Whether you’re dealing with new legislation and regulations, new customer requirements such as quality certifications, or even a hostile takeover, changes based upon compliance are the most challenging ones to implement because of the natural resistance we tend to have to situations we didn’t initiate (see “Digging Deeper” below). While people will usually comply with new rules and regulations, I believe you can accelerate progress and achieve better results by gaining others’ commitment to successfully implementing the changes.
To increase the likelihood of a successful outcome:
—Reframe the situation: Research has shown that the more you expect something to be painful, the more painful it becomes. In this case, you already know the downsides of the situation, but what are the potential benefits? For example, one client had to deal with the challenge of keeping employees committed to their jobs as the company was acquired and the site was being closed. Initially, employees were understandably stressed when they received the news. However, once we worked together to help them look at their situation from a broader perspective and gain job search coaching, their stress decreased. Ultimately, most of the employees committed to adapting to new policies and staying productive until the facility was shut down six months later. As this case illustrates, taking a broader view keeps the situation in perspective and makes it easier for everyone to find hidden opportunities.
—Communicate credibly: As challenging as unwelcome changes may be for you to accept, it’s ten times as bad for stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, strategic partners, etc.). They can observe what’s happening but usually don’t have enough information to understand it and make intelligent decisions. Left unchecked, I’ve seen this lead to rumors that end up causing extra challenges. Instead, communicate credibly by providing your stakeholders with facts in a variety of ways on a frequent enough basis so they can reconcile what they observe happening with the reasons behind it. Will there be reorganization and layoffs? Will relationships with suppliers change? How are priorities shifting? Even if you don’t know the answers yet or can’t disclose certain information, you can discuss what you do know and are able to share at this time. The more that people perceive they are being treated with respect, the more likely they are to support even the most difficult changes.
—Prepare in advance: The only thing worse than an unwelcome change is one that someone expects us to make instantly. More often than not, taking a just-in-time approach to changes – especially changes due to new rules and regulations – results in a great deal of firefighting, confusion, and even more resistance. The best way to avoid this problem is to prepare your organization as soon as you have a strong sense that changes will need to happen. Remember that changing established policies, procedures, and systems will trigger the need for employees to gain new knowledge, skills, and abilities in order to continue to perform in their jobs. It’s also important to plan for a shift in priorities while everything is in flux. Starting the transition process with lead time makes it easier to accommodate all of these issues by the deadline.
Commitment is always stronger than compliance. The degree to which you foster a broader perspective of the situation and help others prepare in advance for what lies ahead makes it more likely to gain their commitment and increases the chance of a successful outcome.
Gary W. Patterson, president and CEO of FiscalDoctor™ (http://www.fiscaldoctor.com), sent me the following notice: “Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) will soon become a business issue for family owned businesses, private companies, and nonprofits. This represents a strategy shift for such organizations, which up until this point thought Sarbox applied only to public companies.”
According to Patterson, “ERM is defined as the methods and processes used by organizations to manage risks (or seize opportunities) related to the achievement of their objectives. Both Standard & Poor’s (www.standardandpoors.com) and Moody’s (www.moodys.com) are currently soliciting comments on their approach to ERM analysis and how they plan to factor it into their ratings.”
I agree with Patterson that it’s time to seriously heed these signals, which have been sent out for two years, and consider that requirements for formalized ERM systems are moving from “if” to “when.”
Rather than waiting until the last minute and going through the rush to comply, smart leaders are already looking ahead to gain active commitment to ERM from their boards, employees and other stakeholders and are beginning to prepare for changes ahead. What are you doing to get ready?
Most people will not openly resist change. Instead, they agree to do something and then it doesn’t happen. This type of agreement can be especially damaging to progress because it’s easy to believe you have commitment that isn’t there.
In order to overcome hidden resistance, it’s important to recognize that it exists and avoid jumping to conclusions. Reasons could include one or more of the following:
—Capability: In some cases, people feel pressured to say “yes” even when they don’t have the time, equipment, human resources, knowledge, skills, or ability to do what is being asked of them.
—Willingness: In other cases, people feel pressured to say “yes” but they don’t want to do what being asked of them. The change may go against their personal values or against the culture of their peer group. Some people may also be reluctant to take on new responsibilities that are outside of their comfort zone.
While it can take some probing in a variety of ways to uncover the issues behind resistance, the good news is many of these issues can be addressed by collaborating with the other person/people to correct mistaken assumptions, refocus priorities, arrange for additional resources and training, or modify responsibilities.
Example: One company discovered that the main reason for hidden resistance was that people didn’t have enough information about why their department’s goals kept changing (the company was in the process of complying with changes required by new regulations). Once employees understood the bigger picture, they were able to accept what was happening and found ways to become productive during the transition.
The more you know about the reasons behind the resistance, the more you can accurately address the real issues that are getting in the way and regain commitment.