Resist the resistance to change
December, 2010There's an old saying that goes: It is easy to change things. It is hard to change people. Resistance to change is perhaps the biggest threat to progress a business can face.
Case in point: In 1972, a young engineer at Texas Instruments named Gary Boone came up with the idea for a full computer on a chip, which we now know as the microprocessor. He got a patent even though he had trouble getting his colleagues interested in his work.
Eventually, Boone made enough noise to get a meeting with TI's top computer jockey. Boone explained his idea for a computer on a chip to his superior.
"Young man," said the expert, "don't you realize that computers are getting bigger, not smaller?"
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak tried to sell the idea of personal computers to their bosses at Atari and Hewlett-Packard. But their bosses weren't interested. So Jobs and Wozniak started Apple Computer. For the quarter ending September 2010, Apple Inc. had revenues of $20 billion. (I got that information on my iphone.)
Neither of these changes happened overnight, nor were they without plenty of hard work and hand-wringing. Not all changes are for the better (think about the New Coke experiment.) But those instances quickly prove to be learning experiences for the next innovation.
I am in an industry that has seen remarkable change in the last twenty years. Communication that used to be mailed in a crisp envelope now travels through cyberspace almost instantly. Fax machines and the Internet forced us to look at the future of our business. We are constantly readjusting -- changing -- to accommodate and, in fact thrive, in our increasingly paperless society.
To not only survive, but also to thrive, the skill you need to master is resilience.
Your organization's ability to change quickly depends on your employees. Memos and new mission statements won't produce results on their own. Change has to come from within your workforce.
If you're a manager, you need to set the stage so employees know what's happening in your company and in your industry, or they won't see any reason to do things differently. Share as much as you can about your finances, the problems your organization is facing, and what's likely to happen if you all do nothing.
Remind your staff that change takes time. To be successful people will have to look to the future, not to short-term gains and losses. Performance won't be transformed overnight. Once you've restructured, implemented new systems and launched new strategies, give the learning curve time to achieve the progress you're looking for. Don't be so impatient for results that you sabotage your efforts and those of your work force.
Change works best when it's a collaborative, interactive process. Consider everyone who'll be affected, from front-line employees to high management, as well as customers and other stakeholders. Provide them with updates on your progress. Ask them how it's going and what could speed things along. If you've done a good job of selling the change and giving them the facts they need to bring it to life, their insights and opinions will prove invaluable.
Susan Dunn, a clinical psychologist, has observed that people who can bounce back after failure and figure out what needs to change to confront new obstacles without losing their nerve generally do these essential things:
Mackay's Moral: If you still believe you can't teach an old dog new tricks, you might as well roll over and play dead.
- Learn from experience. Resilient people reflect on what happens to them -- good and bad -- so they can move forward without illusion.
- Accept setbacks and losses. Face the reality of what happens in order to get past it.
- Recognize emotions. Resilient people identify what they're feeling and express their emotions appropriately.
- Keep time in perspective. Past, present, and future are separate. Don't mix them up (by letting what's in the past determine your choices in the here and now, for example).
- Think creatively and flexibly. Look for new ways to solve problems and face challenges.
- Take care of yourself. Resilience is based on good physical and mental health. Get enough rest, eat sensibly, and spend time with people who support you.
- Ask for help. Resilient people don't try to do everything themselves. Ask others for assistance, and learn how to do so graciously and effectively.
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