Change Is Good: D Is for Decision

Change Is Good is a blog series in which Roger Kastner highlights the simplicity in the art of Organizational Change Management and strives to encourage readers to maximize Pareto’s Law when navigating through the complexity of human behavior.

Slalom Consulting Roger Kastner

A Consultant Manager with Slalom Consulting, Roger works with clients and other consultants in the delivery of Organizational Effectiveness and Project Leadership services and helps practitioners achieve greater success than previously possible.

Organizational change has several similarities with individual change. Both forms of change are usually for the better, usually difficult to accomplish, and are dependent on a singular thing—successful change is dependent on an individual’s decision to accept the change.

Regardless of whether we are implementing a new software system or quitting smoking, if someone decides to not accept the change, all the vision statements from leaders, slogans on posters, mentoring during one-on-one sessions, and pronouncements from First Ladies to “just say no” are not going to make a difference. It really boils down to an individual making the decision to accept the change.

It’s just that simple.

Now, being able to tell if an individual has truly accepted the willingness to change, well, that’s not so simple. Studies show that around 15-20% of any organization will resist any change, so if you ask 5 people and all 5 say they are in favor, at least one of them might be leaving a false impression.

So how can you tell the difference between someone who has made the decision to accept the change from someone who hasn’t? Here are three ways:

Ask
As I discussed in my last blog C is for Context, I suggested that managers should have one-on-one conversations with their employees to set the context for change with their employees. After setting the context, the manager should ask a few questions to determine whether the individual is ready to accept the change. These questions should include:

  • Do you think this change is good for the organization?
  • Do you think this change is good for you and your role?
  • What concerns do you have for the change?
  • Can you think of any reasons why some of your colleagues would be unsure or pushback on the change?

Now, many people they might not be able to find the right words to describe their feelings or they might not feel safe in telling the truth, and so they may potentially say “all the right things” in response leaving the impression they have made the decision to accept the change. Of course, they may at that point in time accept the change, but later waver due to things “they heard in the hall.” Just in case, you should probably do two more things.

Watch
Actions speak louder than words, right? This is the easiest of the three methods for determining if someone has accepted the change.

  • Do they show up and participate at meetings about the change?
  • Are they visibly participating in the change (dialoguing positively with colleagues, helping to design implementation plans, etc.)?
  • Do they complete their change-oriented assignments on-time and as expected?
  • Are they willing to advocate the change to their colleagues?

Listen
This is the most nuanced of the three, but extremely telling, so you have to pay close attention. When talking through the change, does the individual frame their words in the realm of possibility or impossibility?

Realm of Possibility Realm of Impossibility
“This may work if…” “This won’t work.”
“We need to…” “You need to…”
“Can I…” “You should…”
“Not sure, what do you think about…” “I don’t know.”
“Yes, and…” “No, but…”

In my experience, when people put things in the positive, especially about how to improve something, they are more likely to have decided to accept the change. And conversely, those responses in the realm of impossibility are signs of hesitation or non-agreement, and are significant signs of not accepting the change.

OK, what next?
Say you are leading people through change, and after you have performed the Ask, Watch, and Listen steps, you determined one of your people have not accepted the change, then what?

It’s time to have a direct conversation with them. At some point you may have to have the “get on the bus” conversation, but it should rarely be the first, second, or third conversation.

Early in the process, this conversation should be more of you asking questions and learning from the individual, rather than attempting to convince them, for a couple specific reasons:

  • Their feedback and concerns will help you develop countermeasures to resistance.
  • You are trying to build or strengthen a safe and trusting environment, and trust comes from respectful conversations, not the hammer approach.

If one person is resistant, there are likely others with the same concerns to varying degrees. By understanding the resistance that one person is demonstrating, you can address that resistance in others before it manifests itself later when you are closer to the point where acceptance is critical.

Wrap it up
Hopefully, the Ask, Watch, and Listen motto will be as catchy as the earthquake preparedness motto of Stop, Duck, and Cover, (while the earthquake motto would be a bad motto for org change management, Stop, Duck and Cover are tale-tell signs of resistance too, albeit humorous ones).

Asking, watching, and listening are three key behaviors that all managers and leaders should demonstrate regardless of leading change or not, so in theory these should not be any additional work. Yet, the value and impact of these behaviors for identifying if an individual has accepted the change is huge.

It’s just that simple.

About Roger Kastner
As a member of the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom Consulting, I'm excited to share my perspectives and experiences with Change and Project Management to help clients and practitioners achieve their goals and objectives.

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