Change, even on a good day, is difficult. As companies look to reinvent themselves to meet the challenges of the future, change is inevitable. Whether expanding a business, restructuring an offering or just improving an existing product, it will require doing things differently. It seems simple enough. Offer up a good idea and everyone will be on board. But as we all know, people are not like that.
Changing the way people work is different than changing processes. It requires that people change the way they think, act, respond and go about their daily task. Think about how huge that is. Consider that you have been doing things the same way for ten years and have been successful doing it. All of a sudden, it’s time to ‘change the way you work’. Yikes. What next? What if I can’t do it the new way? How will I know what to do next? The emotional side of change can take the form of fear, anger, resentment, or a combination of all these emotions that create resistance to change. That’s why the people-process-plan connection has to be strong and the change process has to be well orchestrated. Never underestimate the power of human emotion. It can help you rise to new heights or bring your company down to new lows. The sooner you recognize and address the connection of emotions to changing work processes, the sooner you will be on your way to a real transformation that changes the way you work.
I experienced this several years ago when I was responsible for a large customer service center. I was surprised to learn that our associates were using an outdated word document system as a reference guide to assist our 2 million customers. 20 years ago when the system was first introduced it was probably better than sliced bread. Associates could search word documents for help versus having to look up things in a manual. But 20 years later, technology had a better answer. We introduced a web based knowledge management system with search capability and content structure that made looking up information a zillion times faster. Fortunately we engaged an experience change management consultant to help us introduce the new system to employees through learning workshops, hands on demonstrations, and assuring their input was incorporated into a new product. But employees were still worried about the new process and there was still a bit of resistance to the change. It made no sense to me. The new process and software was a hundred times better, faster and user friendly. How could anyone not want to have it? But this is the reality in any change. People tend to cling to things that are familiar to them no matter how wonderful the change may be. Fortunately the change management activities we implemented along the way were effective and the implementation went well. A year later, there wasn’t an associate that could imagine themselves going back to the old way of doing things.
In my 30 years of watching and facilitating change, I have seen change done well and I have witnessed disasters. This experience has solidified my belief in good change management techniques which includes introducing change by defining why it is needed and getting people to buy in, giving people an opportunity to be part of the change versus having a change done to them and addressing the emotional side of change.
Emotion is a powerful thing. On the up side, it reveals itself in passion or drive for success. It’s a sense of belonging and value that can drive productivity through the roof and enable people to reach their full potential. Harnessing this power is a catalyst for positive change. At the same time, you cannot ignore the potential downside that emotions can bring to your business. Fear, anger, resentment, disengagement, frustration and ill will. These emotions are also very powerful. If you take the time to implement change in the right way, you can avoid the drama that negative emotions imparts on your organization. In the case of successful change, just saying so doesn’t make it so.