The difficulty of initiating and driving change

In our society today, people will usually find it difficult to admit they are scared of forthcoming changes

What is so difficult or complicated about initiating and managing change? Just think of a few scenarios, simple things you may have observed around you daily. The way regular commuters tend to wait for their train on the platform at the same spot every day. Or maybe the list of things you do first thing in the morning when you get out of bed. Biologically, the human being has not evolved that much in the past 3,000 years and yet the accepted wisdom of our century is that routine is dull, that is makes life boring and is not ‘cool'.

Quite to the contrary, if you think of it, routine is in fact what prevents us from collapsing with mental overload before the morning is over. Routine saves us a biological species, because anything we do as a routine is a proven and a safe way of getting things done. Anything we do as a routine leaves us with some spare mental bandwidth to cope with exceptional items and be on the lookout for anything dangerous or threatening in our immediate environment.

Fear saves us too. Fear is one of the essential mechanisms thanks to which species can survive. If we didn't have that little alarm bell within each of us that rings to say ‘be careful', we would all be engaging in dangerous activities that would get us into bad trouble or even get us killed. If there ever was on this planet any form of developed animal that had no sense of fear, you can be sure it is extinct today.

What I aim to illustrate here is that we would not exist today if biologically we were not somehow programmed to seek proven routines and fear the unknown. In a stable environment the safest and most successful key to survival is to do the same proven things over and over again, and not to venture too far into the unknown. But change that environment and things could look very different, as the dinosaurs discovered - far too late.

Importantly, when considering the magnitude of the change that will take place in your business as a result of integration, bear in mind that the resistance to change you are inevitably about to encounter is not caused by laziness or uncooperative attitudes from the people around you. That resistance finds its root cause in something much more fundamental, which lies deep within each of us: our instinctive need for safe proven routines and our apprehension of the unknown.

In our society today, people will usually find it difficult to admit they are scared of forthcoming changes - some may indeed think that this could be a career limiting statement, or make them feel less able than their peers. This causes a huge risk, the risk of not recognising the early symptoms of one of the key causes of resistance to change: fear. Chances are that the vast majority of the people in your organisation have never gone through a merger or business integration before. This is a journey into the unknown, and they are aware from numerous examples that hit the headlines in the media that things can often go drastically wrong.

Some people with the best intentions might declare themselves fully on-board with a proposed change programme and still be extremely unsettled deep down inside. And if this is the case, it will not take much during the implementation of the change for such people to become sceptical and adopt a behaviour that is detrimental to the desired outcome.

As human beings, we are programmed to seek stability, safety, some form of comfort. Not to deliberately seek change, unless the need for change is made abundantly clear because above all, like all other species, we are programmed to survive. Translate this into a business environment and it is easy to understand how individuals will accept the effort of change if they can be convinced that life overall will be better afterwards than where they stand today.



Paul J. Siegenthaler
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Published on 3rd November 2010 by
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