Ever tried to implement a big change and watched the effort fall short, maybe even get shot down before it got off the ground?
(A pastor once told me he wanted to move a table from one side of the fellowship hall to the other. Before he could complete that simple task, several people had already informed him that the table should stay exactly where it was!)
People tend to resist change, even trivial ones. Big widespread changes to programs or approaches? Even more so!
If you’ve ever tried to lead a significant change initiative, you’ve likely encountered resistance. In fact, that’s why many change efforts fail. So the questions are, “Why are people so resistant to change?” and “How do I as a leader overcome that resistance?”
Let’s start with the first question. Here are eight reasons people tend to resist change both before and during the process.
- They don’t see the need to change.
- They think the proposed change is essentially just one person’s (or one small group’s) opinion.
- They don’t have a clear vision of what the future will look like after the change.
- Major changes take time and people tend to lose focus after a while.
- Barriers to the change seem numerous and insurmountable.
- As things progress, they don’t see any immediate results.
- They don’t recognize the numerous opportunities for immediate improvement.
- The group as a whole embraces the status quo over progress.
Study those and I believe you will find within them seeds of answers to the second question, “How do I as a leader overcome resistance to change?”
Harvard Professor Dr. John Kotter in his book The Heart of Change lays out an eight step process for leading change designed to address each of those problems. I plan to share a bit of Kotter’s process in my blog article next week.
One thing for sure, though, successful change initiatives require some forethought and strategy. It’s helpful to think through your approach to overcoming each of the eight reasons people resist change.
For now, I would like to leave you with the primary thesis of Dr. Kotter’s book. He says, ”Our main finding, put simply, is that the central issue [of leading people through change] is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. All those elements, and others, are important. But the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.” [i]
When God instructed Joshua to begin huge “change initiative” of conquering the Promised Land, He included several exhortations to not be afraid.
Perhaps we also do well to address the emotions of people when leading them into something new.
[i] Kotter, Heart of Change, p. x