I wrote an article recently entitled “We Have a Communication Plan – Isn’t That Enough?” which aimed to dispel the myth that Organisational Change Management is just about communications.
This led me to thinking about some other myths regarding Organisational Change Management (OCM) that need to be dispelled that I could write about – so this could become a mini-series in myth busting!
One of the myths I have come across is the belief that OCM is only needed when you are “reorganising the organisation” in terms of physical structure. I think this is a result of the term “organisational change’ being interpreted as physical changes to the organisation itself.
So, we need to clarify what we mean by change. With the help of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary the following are definitions of change:
- To make different in some particular way
- To give a different direction
- To replace with another
- To make a shift from one to another
- To modify
- To transform
- To make radically different
This tells us that “change” is a very broad spectrum. How does that translate into change for our organisation?
Change could take the form of new or changed:
- Vision and strategy
- Roles and responsibilities
- Physical location
- Processes and procedures
- Structure (including mergers and acquisitions, reorganisations and redundancies)
This is by no means a definitive list but gives a sense of the number of situations which could cause the organisation, or a part of the organisation, to be asked to change i.e. move from the current state to a desired future state.
Organisational Change Management (OCM) is about enabling the people within the organisation to make the transition to the future state in ALL of those situations.
Another myth perpetuating the situation is the assumption that most people will understand why a change is being made and only a few will resist and therefore the change cannot be derailed. Think again! Never underestimate the power of a small group of determined people who have a shared vision, which is to resist the change. They cannot be ignored and their fears, concerns, and unease must be addressed.
In his work on force-field analysis, Kurt Lewin  (1951) made it clear that non-movement of people to a desired state must be seen as a dynamic state composed of many opposing forces. Those who “resist” are to be seen as “bundles of energy” not as passive lifeless blobs.
It is imperative that the resisters are engaged and this energy is harnessed. The ability to do this can be one of the most powerful catalysts for successful change within OCM.
Another myth is that if people resist then you should just let them go or reduce their roles within the organisation. This approach can have a major impact on others in the organisation who are likely to say “stuff it” or start a little “resistance coalition’ of their own and sabotage the change or they could check out altogether.
It is important to understand the myriad of reasons people may resist change and be prepared to address them.
In a Harvard Business Review article, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, lists the top 10 sources of resistance she has found most common.
She also notes that resistance can manifest itself “from foot-dragging and inertia to petty sabotage to outright rebellion”.
I have summarised Kanter’s top 10 here.
1. Loss of control – people feel they have lost control over their territory. Our sense of self-determination is often the first thing to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else.
2. Excess uncertainty – If people have no information about the change it can feel like walking off a cliff blindfolded – and they will reject it.
3. Surprise, surprise! – decisions imposed on people suddenly with no time for them to prepare are generally resisted.
4. Everything seems different – we are creatures of habit and change can be a sharp jolt into consciousness sometimes in uncomfortable ways.
5. Loss of face – change is a departure from the past. Those people associated with the last version – the one that didn’t work – are likely to be defensive.
6. Concerns about competence – can I do it? Change is resisted when people are worried that their skills will be inadequate or become obsolete.
7. More work – change will bring more work especially for those closest to it and can cause resistance if not managed effectively.
8. Ripple effects – change creates ripples and can disrupt other areas of the organisation and they start to push back – rebelling about changes that they had nothing to do with.
9. Past resentments – the ghosts of the past lie in wait. The history of old wounds, poorly executed projects, past resentments can rise up and drive resistance.
10. Sometimes the threat is real – change is resisted because it can hurt. New technologies can replace old ones and jobs can be lost – causing major resistance.
There are various OCM strategies that can be applied to deal with these and other areas of resistance as they surface. The key is to ensure the resistance is surfaced and dealt with rather than allow it to fester beneath the surface and destroy your chance of successful change.
So be aware of the changes you are making within the organisation and the need for OCM as an integral part of the change initiative, be aware of the sources of resistance in each situation and be prepared to strategise around them.
 Lewin K. (1951) ‘Field Theory in Social Science’, Harper and Row, New York.