Canada: Change Is Good...Resistance Is Futile

Last Updated: May 1 2014
Article by Trent Bester

It can be an enormous challenge for any organization to transition effectively through the implementation of a new or revised strategy. Consider these realities:

  • Given the significant effort that goes into the development of a strategy, it is not an option for people to opt out of its implementation.
  • There will be some resistance—and potentially casualties—as some people will not be able to fully absorb the change.

The good news is that most people can actually change and will buy in to a new strategy if the organization is respectful of the effects of change, measures performance in a thoughtful way and allows people to make the journey of understanding "what's in it for them" at a reasonable pace.

"Win win" or "lose lose". . . your choice

Human behaviour is probably the most unpredictable yet the most powerful element in successfully implementing change. Investing the time to ensure you are setting your people up for success and encouraging desired behaviours could be your most important strategy.

You can't assume that people will be able to figure everything out by themselves as they navigate through a change. A certain degree of structure must be in place so people feel fully supported and understand what they should be doing in the new environment. Aligning performance measures with desired behaviours and giving people the tools, processes and time they need to learn what they need to learn can make the difference between winning and losing the battle for effective and sustainable change.

How am I doing?

Just about every survey on what motivates people at work places money far down the list—well, at least not in the top three. Ultimately people like to know they are valued and that what they do makes a difference to the organization.

Whether your organization currently does this well or not, a significant change initiative provides you with the opportunity to get it right. A performance management program designed to promote the right behaviours accomplishes two important goals. First, your people will understand what is expected of them and how they will be rewarded. Second, they will be more likely to work hard to make the change a success.

Think before you measure

Performance metrics can be complicated, in ways you may never have expected. Therefore, they require significant thought from multiple perspectives.

Case in point: A manufacturing company was embarking on an initiative to become a customer-centric organization with the goal of providing outstanding customer experience as its major weapon against much bigger competitors. To instill this change in strategy, they placed a zero tolerance on late order delivery on virtually every employee. Any individual whose actions resulted in a late order received a personal but unpleasant visit from the CEO. In addition, the company offered an "on time or it's free" guarantee to its customers.

From the customers' perspective this was great, and it did lead to an increase in business for the company. Internally, however, the new on-time-or-else performance measure had some unintended consequences. Given the repercussions of not meeting this ultimate directive, managers began looking the other way when other measures such as cost control and product quality began to fall in priority and were not met. The results were somewhat catastrophic for the organization. Freight and overtime costs went through the roof as orders often had to be expedited. Parts inventory skyrocketed as the purchasing group made sure there was redundant stock to deliver all orders on time. Employee stress and anxiety spiked to alarming levels. And the company experienced a substantial decrease in profitability despite rising revenues.

This is just one example of how performance measures can look good on the surface but may actually encourage detrimental behaviours. Performance measures that work for one objective but undermine other areas of the organization can be the death of a change initiative.

Change strategies that work

Organizations can make change easier on all parties and achieve their intended strategic outcomes by implementing effective performance metrics in conjunction with other change management strategies. Specific actions you can take to mitigate the effects of change include:

  • Define and communicate the value of the change for both internal staff and customers. Clearly communicating how a particular change will help you better meet customer needs will help create a compelling vision that people can attach themselves to.
  • Address potential barriers to success. Investigate how management, staff and customers might resist the change and design mitigation strategies that communicate the value of the change or the "what's in it for me" to all stakeholders.
  • Find people who believe in the change. Identify change agents in the organization who are recognized leaders and have influence with internal resources and customers. If these people see the change as a positive move, they can set the tone for others.
  • Set people up for success. Ensure people feel fully supported and have the tools, processes and time to learn what they need to learn to feel comfortable with the new environment.
  • Design and implement a performance management system that promotes and encourages the desired behaviours. A common mistake organizations make is not evolving how they measure performance as they grow and change.

The bottom line is that change has to be handled carefully and approached from the point of view of the people most affected. Implemented in the right way, strategic change will be seen as an enabler of—not a barrier to—people's achievement of their own goals and the overall effectiveness of the organization.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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