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Tenet #9 - Ten Tenets of Change Management

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by Larry Pendergrass, Principal

Tenet #9: Recognize that some will not make the change.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

-Lao Tzu

Not everyone can live the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, allowing change to flow into their lives without resistance. As hard as Lao Tzu’s advice sounds to follow, your people must eventually accept the changes imposed upon them. Those who are not able to do so will become a drag on your forward movement as an organization. Your role in the process includes bringing as many people as possible forward into the new vision. But no matter how you have recognized and appreciated the past, how you have painted a compelling vision, how you counsel, who you enlist to carry the message to the masses, how consistent you are with that message, and how often you recognize progress; there will still be some people who will not come along for the ride. 

It is not always easy to recognize those who will not make the final journey. It is not necessarily those who, in the beginning and with good intention, argue with you about the change. Often critical thinking and vocal challenging of the goal is essential to the acceptance process, and to shape the vision for ultimate success. If your requirement is for a future organization that values constructive contention (and I certainly hope it is… see my Ten Tenets of Leadership) you need to be careful not to squash these challenges too early in the process. When changing so much about the organization, the processes, the tools and the culture, part of your change process might even be to enhance constructive contention. I have certainly been in the position of establishing a new culture of constructive contention, drawing out others and proving that they are in a safe environment for respectfully challenging our plans.

At some point, the challenging has to stop, decisions are made and you need to be able to move forward with confidence, knowing that your team is with you. At this point, the negative impact of those who are not bought into your plan cannot be over-emphasized. Identifying them as early as possible is essential. Those who are vocally negative about the changes are easier to spot, to give final council and to remove from their harmful roles if necessary. But those who are passively aggressive are the most difficult to identify. These people may give every indication of being on-board with the plan, but will undermine this same plan whenever possible by at least lack of action and at worst, sabotage. They may have subtle, even unconscious actions such as telling their team “You know I don’t really agree with this, but Mr. Big says we have to do it.” While trying to endear themselves to their team, they are producing an environment of mistrust, suspicion and signaling discordant “leadership” at the top. At any indication of this kind of activity, confront it with honesty, with evidence and with a strong message of the negative impact on the organization. Don’t wait too long before judging if this person will be making the cut. Take action sooner rather than later, or your change management project will be in jeopardy.

I have had direct experience in exactly this situation, but due to the personal nature of this issue it is difficult to speak too plainly about it here and still be respectful to those involved. Suffice it to say that I have waited too long before acting, partially due to having a foggy picture of what was happening, a fog deliberately put in place by one of my employees, and partially due to hope that the person would make the change with my guidance. If change is critical and fast action is essential, you may have to be more critical and fast-acting than ever concerning your leaders. They need adapt to change faster than the general populace, or they cannot be the leaders of that change.

Not everyone is prepared to follow you in your new vision. Not everyone can make it completely through the grief cycle to come out a positive influence in your change process. Identify these people as quickly as possible and take action.

In the final blog in this series I will talk about the importance of being visible and involved in the change management process.

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