There is No Substitute for Trust

The organizational change model is well known. It follows an equally well-known model: the one for making decisions.                         

·         State the problem you want to solve as succinctly as possible.

·         Draw up a list of possible solutions

·         Evaluate each, and pick the best one.

·         Assign its implementation to one or more people.

·         Set a deadline.

·         Decide how you will measure progress.

The key to the success of both models is people. They have to cooperate.

Typically, the decision-makers see themselves as those who are ready to change, or perhaps have even done so already. It’s everyone else who gets in the way.

Research, however, has shown that while this opinion is widely held, it’s also false. There are people on both sides who want to change, just as there are executives and employees who don’t. “Them and us” is not demarcated along hierarchical boundaries, and it’s vital that you recognize that.

One of the most persistent challenges in organizational change is how to get those who won’t cooperate to do so. The received wisdom has been to engage them – to demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart; to include them in and, to a certain extent, allow them to make decisions. The problem, however, is that while these intentions are admirable, they’re seldom carried out, even when executives think they are – at least that’s how those who are most affected by those changes see it. Too often, it is they who have the least power to respond positively to their circumstances.  They are the real victims. They know it, and so does everyone else; and it is they who perhaps personify the resistance that managers assign to all employees.

They are the ones who lose their jobs and can’t find new ones. They are the ones who are forced to retire early, when they can ill afford to do so. They are the ones who are forced to relocate to stay employed, but who can’t sell their house or have elderly relatives to care for. They are the ones who seem to be habitually mistreated when organizations change.

One way that the problem of resistance has been tackled has been to look at the organization chart and from it identify those deemed to be change leaders. Such people are then briefed and trained, and then sent out into the wider organization to explain what will be happening – what the change programme is all about.

It turns out, however, that the “grass roots” employees don’t follow the formal leaders, or at least not any more than they have to. Instead, they follow their own, informal leaders. That’s because they’re suspicious of anyone who has the organization’s approval. And so the key to overcoming resistance to change has been linked to identifying those people.

This, too, has been a problem. That’s because informal leaders aren’t even on the managerial radar. Instead, they work quietly in the background. They have their finger on the organizational pulse, but the only ones who know that are those who go to them for advice. In fact, that’s how managers have been able to find them; by asking people who they ask when they want to know something; when they want to clarify or quash a rumour.

When organizations engage these people, resistance to change lessens considerably. Those who are against such initiatives become more agreeable to them. In other words, they cooperate.

This long introduction – this background information – has been necessary to bring you to a point where you’ll be willing to consider something that’s very important. It’s this: Good ideas often are effective in the short term. Some can last longer. There nearly always comes a point where it becomes “well-worn”. We’re probably not there yet with this one. There’s still time to re-mould your organization by identifying the informal leaders and “winning” them before you try to implement the changes that you want to make; but you shouldn’t become complacent. You must not believe that this will continue to work ad infinitum.

You see, the problem is that winning the informal leaders could be construed as subterfuge by those who had been sceptical and who resisted you in the first place. You may have witnessed this personally or know of organizations where this has happened. Informal leaders are wooed by the management until they, in effect, become part of the organization’s unofficial hierarchy. They, too, become organization men and women.

Overcoming resistance isn’t about changing minds through persuasion. Instead, it’s about changing hearts by building and maintaining trust - between you and the informal leaders, and between them and your employees.

Successful organizational change depends on it.

If you would like to know more about organizational change, contact me here.

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