The landscape of organizational change and change management has shifted drastically since I started working in the area over 20 years ago. There was a time when the words change management would cause leaders to leave the room. Now it has become embedded in most leaders’ vocabulary.
Yet, the myths about organizational change and change management continue to circulate. The myths reveal hidden and often unchallenged biases and beliefs that sabotage organizational change efforts.
Uncovering some of these hidden biases and beliefs will help you discover what’s hindering your organization’s success and what you can do to enable healthy and sustainable change.
Myth #1: People who buy-in to the change are ready to implement the new activities and behaviours
You’re feeling good. You just announced a change initiative and the response was positive. Your team expressed excitement about what it would be like after the change was implemented. Everyone has bought into the change. Pleased you have buy-in you proceed to implement. And that’s when it happens, all the people who expressed excitement are finding reasons why it won’t work. They question the need, can’t find time to participate or don’t follow through. You’re left wondering what happened.
That buy-in you had was simply their agreement for the idea of change. It was not their commitment to take the actions needed to implement the activities. Commitment is different than buy-in. Commitment is the decision to participate and take the actions necessary to adopt new activities and behaviours.
You need agreement (buy-in) to the change—without it, you can’t get their commitment. But without commitment, we won’t take the actions needed to adopt the new behaviours and activities.
Myth #2: People are resistant to change. The leader’s role is to manage the resistance.
People don’t resist change. But we are hardwired to seek consistency and predictability. Uncertainty and fear of the unknown are two of the most stressful things for every human being. Therefore, we will react to anything that is different, unexpected, creates uncertainty, or takes us outside our comfort zone.
It’s easy to misinterpret our normal human response to change for resistance. It’s not. Leaders who believe people resist change (resistant mindset) label a group or person as resistant because the normal human response is not the desired or expected response. For example, you announce a change you see as beneficial expecting your employees to be pleased. But instead, they question its value or talk about how it didn’t work before. When you define this normal response as resistance, you have created the resistance which you will need to manage.
You can prevent resistance when you adopt a readiness mindset. That’s why I advocate leaders stop managing resistance and start building readiness.
Leaders with a readiness mindset believe, when people internalize the need for change, feel prepared, capable and that they will be supported throughout the change process, they will move toward change. A readiness mindset sets you up for success because it is proactive and affirmative. Leaders who have a readiness mindset focus on understanding the normal human response to change and use it to build their team and organization’s strengths. Where there is readiness, resistance can’t exist.
Myth #3 It’s best not to communicate the change until all decisions are made so as not to raise anxiety
You don’t want to raise anxiety but you haven’t finished all the planning. There are still many decisions to be made, so you decide not to announce or talk about the change. Despite no official announcement people are talking about it. Because most of the talk is negative and inaccurate people are feeling anxious. You wonder, who leaked it. The information was supposed to be confidential.
It’s likely no one consciously leaked the information. However, unconsciously, you and other people involved were communicating.
Our brain is constantly and unconsciously on the lookout for any inconsistencies in our environment that could pose a potential threat. This ability means we are able to notice, judge, and react to subtle shifts in our environment.
For example, your employees notice you are in more meetings than usual, or you don’t say hello the same way. In the absence of any real information from you, they look to any available source to make sense of what they see. This could come from their own heads or another person. Their quest is just to fill the information void. People will believe the most outrageous rumour upon hearing it once from an unofficial source. The same information from an official source must be given six times in six different ways. 
The decision to say nothing has created the anxiety you were trying to avoid and decreased trust. You have also lost control of the message and the messenger.
Communicate early to socialize and help people internalize the need and intended outcome for change. This will help reduce uncertainty. Communicate actively, to engage your team in the conversations about change. That will help build trust and a belief in their capability and the organization’s to achieve the desired result.
Myth #4: When people are trained, they will adopt the new activities and behaviours
Training is usually one of the first things that comes to mind when planning for organizational change. Training is important and necessary but it will not ensure the new activities are adopted or stick. To ensure the activities and behaviours stick, the activities you do before and after training are as important as the training.
Leaders who expect training to carry the people side of any change are often disappointed and frustrated when the training fails to deliver the expected results. In 2015 it was estimated companies in the United States spent $356 billion globally on training and didn’t get a return on that investment.
Two things differentiate training that sticks from training that doesn’t. The first is ensuring people are prepared for the training. Preparing people for training is more than giving information about the schedule, location, and nature of the training. Before they receive that information, they need to understand the context and expectations. They also need the time and space to internalize what the new activities will mean for them.
The second is the amount of reinforcement and post-training support. We have all had the experience of attending a training program only to get back to our regular routine and not apply what we learned. Ensure your change management plan includes post-training support and that the work environment reinforces and supports the new activities until they become a habit.
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Would you like more information about any one of these myths? If you’d like to chat about how to change the way your organization responds to change fill out the form below and a member of our team will reach out.