The “Law” of Organizational Change
By Dr. Dawn-Marie Turner, MEd, CMC
Last month our national news was focused on the backlash the Conservative government was getting over their decision to scrap the mandatory long form census. Now, my interest was not whether the decision to scrap the mandatory long form was the right business decision or not. What was more significant to me was the immense and immediate backlash or “resistance” to the decision.
Watching this and reflecting on other very public change initiatives that have experienced a similar fate reminded me of the consequences when the #1 “Law of Change” is broken.
Putting the statistics fiasco aside, think about your own organization. How many times has your organization analyzed a situation, identified a solution or opportunity, and launched the change initiative only to encounter a tremendous backlash?
The sad part is that much of the backlash you experience could be prevented if you remember the one undisputed reality about change. People will only move toward a change when they have internalized the need for the change. This reality is so critical it should be called “The Law of Change”. Without an internalized need for change, nothing can begin.
This may sound like common sense, and it is. Think about any change and the first question you asked was probably “WHY”. Yet almost daily, whether it is in the headlines or with individual leaders, I see evidence of this law being ignored or its importance minimized. John Kotter, a leading change researcher and author of the book Leading Change, found that over 50 per cent of companies fail when it comes to creating and communicating the need for change. When the people involved don’t internalize the need for change, the failure of your change is almost guaranteed.
People need time to internalize the need for change
Now you may think; “but I told them why the change was needed when we announced the change”. Unfortunately, simply telling them as you push forward a solution will not work. The people affected must internalize the need for change. Internalization is the process people use to connect both intellectually and emotionally with the change. The internalization of the need for change is so important for one reason — motivation. As John Kotter said, “without motivation people won’t help and the change will go nowhere”.
Here are three things you can do to help your people internalize the need for your change
- Start talking about the need for change sooner. Too often leaders wait to start talking about the change until they have defined the solution. Then they fall into the trap of selling the solution instead creating awareness about the problem or opportunity. Before people will buy a solution they need to believe there is a problem.
- Create the opportunity for interactive conversation about the change. Conversation is the means people use to connect personally and emotionally with the need for change. Unless people make this connection they will not move forward with change.
- Be patient. Internalization takes time. If you don’t think you have time, think about how you will find the time to manage the backlash and resistance.