By now most of us that have been in the corporate world for any length of time have gone through layoffs, restructurings, acquisitions, mergers, and many other significant changes to our work environment. Sometimes those changes have gone more smoothly than others, and it is easy to look primarily at external circumstances and conditions as the reason why these changes have been successful or failed. Whatever the external situation might be, a much larger role in the success of significant change in our lives has to do with how we respond to that change. When we resist it or play victim to it, the change can be painful and can even cost us our jobs. On the other hand, if we are proactive and take responsibility for ourselves, the chances are greatly improved that the change will be a positive and productive one.
Here is a list of typical ways we can resist change, followed by descriptions of more productive responses that seek to embrace the change and grow from it rather than resist it. This list can serve as a very practical resource and guide the next time you or someone you know is faced with a significant change in the work environment.
Block: Live in fantasy that management will reduce the pain
If management decisions do not reduce the pain, the decisions made by management are seen as deceiving. Often this is a reaction to misinformation or no information circulated in organization. There may be an excuse or valid reason for the decision. Management may have considered all of the options available and did what they thought was best, yet the action was seen as passive or a non-action to employees/members. This indicates a belief the changes will occur as a response to something outside of the problem/pained system or person.
Solution: Accept responsibility for gaining information; find out how decisions are made
All members ask for more information. They talk and consider all options, using teams of people for more creative ideas and discussion. This helps to eliminate dependency and passivity among some organizational members who wait for information to be given to them. Works best when team/individuals refuse to give or accept excuses. Members seek to find out who has the needed information and determine what action/s needs to be taken.
Block: “I’ve decided I’m not going to change”
Member or team has closed off any options and are usually trapped in a problem. They will say. “I’m not going to have any part of this (change)!” They will resist and fight in egocentrism and piousness. The most common stress on a job is the resistance to change, rather than the change itself.
Solution: Determine significance and importance for change
It is important to ask “What choices do you have?” “Can you have input into the change?” “How will you give the input?” “How can you act and respond rather than react to the impending change?”
Block: Play victim/ martyr
Thoughts of “Poor me, this is so unfair!” closes off options. This negative, victim mentality creates blame or even abuse in another member. Victimization/martyrdom shifts the accountability for a change of attitude away from self and onto another. This situation is usually played out in public, where others get involved in the negativity. The victim is seen as not part of the problem or even a part of the process in the organization.
Solution: Empower self
Members choose to participate in the formulation of new ideas. Empowered people search for the positive aspects of change and look for ways to support the empowerment of themselves and others.
Block: New game –played by the old rules
Members work hard in this system to appear to accept the change yet remain resistant. They know the right words to say in order to get by. They have not accepted the change and still resist it in their work behavior. Members hold onto the idea “they (management or someone else) are responsible” for the change. This attitude shows a lack of acceptance that in organizations today employees need to view their position as being in a highly competitive market where they must manage self and others.
Solution: Accept and participate in the establishment of new expectations for job performance
Work teams can create new guidelines for implementation or support of the change. They can create their own expectations of each other and the goals they set as a team, rather than having goals or expectations thrust upon them from “outside.”
Block: Justify not changing—“I cannot work in an environment that stressful”
These members push for a low key change attempting to minimize the stress of the change. Usually these proposals are temporary solutions and are ways to resist needed systemic change. This attitude indicates a lack of awareness that organizations which move slowly are in trouble in the long run.
Solution: Learn to live in the process
Organizations must be able to respond to the myriad changes happening in the workplace in order to remain competitive. Employees are looking for innovative companies and investors are looking for organizations that can adapt to changing trends. This means today’s organizations must constantly evolve. Change is inevitable and high velocity change is here to stay.
Block: Attempt to “control the uncontrollable”
Political maneuvering and power games are prevalent with this type of block. The members have a “go down fighting” attitude. They believe the change is ultimately devastating for the organization even though the current system is not working or is failing. They resist the inevitable and would rather “go down with the ship” than take a step back to see what can be done differently. Their resistance to the change is their effort to impact something which is beyond their control.
Solution: Accept it is a pure waste of time to “control the uncontrollable”
Members must accept the change will happen whether they participate or not. The change is occurring to improve the organization and members know this. They are empowered to participate in the change and have input into how the change is implemented.
Block: Choose my own pace of change
These members agree to the change, as long as it can be done on their time table, at a pace they are comfortable with. The preferences of this pace may vary among members. Members want to stay in a comfort zone. This attitude and process can bog down the rest of the organization. It is vital for the change to have a common process throughout the system, rather than allowing some units to proceed with change at a pace which is slower than others.
Solution: Stop lying to self
Resistance, whether named or not named is still resistance. Full agreement on the time table or pace of the change may not be possible. Not all members are going to be comfortable in the change process. Admit to self “change is uncomfortable!” Do not deny this fact. It is important that the system change together, at the same time and pace.
Block: Fail to abandon the expendable
Members here want to be accountable for their old job and responsibilities even though that job/position no longer exists. They often did their old job well and were comfortable in the role. They do not want to quit what they do well, even when it is no longer required. They would rather do things right than do the right thing and adapt to the change. In this situation there is usually an element of work, project, or activity addiction. The person will do their old activities and work tasks without acknowledging they must change their routine. This is a way they lie to themselves. See the solution above as well.
Solution: Set priorities
Help these members to abandon the expendable. Address work, project, and activity addiction in the system and offer opportunities for the members to adapt to the change in healthier ways.
The member(s) freezes similar to the “deer in headlights” paralysis. They attempt to minimize risk, hide out and play safe. They refuse to face the reality that change is vital to pick up the speed of the organization to meet the effects of ongoing change.
Solution: Accept that a slow pace puts us behind
Integrated members realize the emphasis is self motivation and focus on what needs to be done. They view risk as valuable and believe risk leads to creativity. Encourage members to process FEAR (False Events Appearing Real) and to participate with the team. By working with each other or a team, the speed of change can be managed more easily by each member.
Block: Afraid of the future
Members may worry and brood about the future. They do not recognize this worrying and brooding tears us down. When a negative view begins, the member/team is borrowing trouble.
Solution: Live today
Members are more accepting of change when they focus on the present. By letting go of the future and focusing on being emotionally connected, the members can be present in the moment and participate in the actions needed to be performed.
Block: Pick the wrong battles
The member feels overwhelmed so they believe they need to fight. They describe their feelings as “Battle Fatigue.” In reality the member fights over trivia, gets involved in wars on too many fronts and is so invested they fight for actions not in the best interest of themselves or the company. They may argue for argument’s sake. Soon they begin to feel burnout due to fighting multiple battles. The member does not stop to access the value of a particular battle or stance or what is needed in the situation. These actions are ways the member is unable to set boundaries.
Solution: “What is most important?”
Members must consider the personal damage to themselves for failing to consider “What is most important?” When the member focuses on doing their job and resolving differences, resentments can be processed and actions lead to productive resolutions.
Block: Unplug from job
Members invest in being disconnected. They feel disgusted and live life as thought they “have to.” The member does not desire to come to work and lives from “I’m supposed to go to work.”
Solution: Recommit to job
Members who accept change focus on the actions they can accomplish.
Block: Avoid new assignments
A member may demand the organization create a new job that looks like their old job. They may become a spectator and leave their responsibilities to someone else. They act as though they cannot compete in the job market therefore, they cannot possibly do the new assignment.
Solution: Enter the game
Members who take on new assignments pick up on important experiences. They accept that familiarity does not mean the best for their professional growth. They are active in redefining the skill base so they can compete in the change process as well as the new job market.
Block: Try to eliminate uncertainty and instability
The member struggles to stabilize. They do not deal with ambiguity and uncertainty due to a strong need for closure or endings.
Solution: Today is temporary
Members who can accept a new attitude of being willing to “improvise” are able to devise and use simple plans. They learn to accept rigidity as a death sentence in their development. They are able to live with ambiguity and see life as a process. They realize closure may not be as clear while living through the change process.
Block: “Caring management should keep me comfortable”
This is similar to the first block discussed since the member is looking for someone else to take care of them and they believe they are “entitled” to be taken care of – usually by management.
Solution: Emotionally connect to job and others
Responsible members realize no one is entitled. Responsible management accepts the idea it is destructive to keep employees comfortable. The best action for each member and each manager is to remember “I need to be responsible for my experiences.”
Block: Being an enabler
Management and other members may compensate for the weaknesses of other members so they are not “hurt” by the change. They listen or agree without confronting other’s comments about change. They may also take on the job of others who are not willing to change. Listening, agreeing and doing another’s job continue the resistance to change and does not assist their co-member to move forward.
Solution: Accept that enabling disables people
Members must accept that doing for someone else what they can learn to do for themselves is enabling. However, members can identify what areas are difficult in doing the job after the change takes place. Then a member can assist a co-member in defining and putting into action solutions for themselves to deal with the changes. Discuss with the co-member how they feel and how the feelings may be reinforcing their need to resist change. Discuss alternative ways to behave and view change.