The Human Factor in Organizational Change

By Tammy McCausland posted 09-17-2019 11:26


This is a summary of the general presentation given by Joan Brett, associate professor of Management & Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business.

Resistance to change is considered the biggest obstacle. To get people to rally around change, you need to:

  • Give up leadership behaviors that worked in the past.
  • Engage your workforce in the organizational change process.
  • Learn the leadership behaviors that foster adaptive change.

Do some self-reflection. Are you an obstacle to change? What about you is getting in the way of implementing change? Consider:

  • What is expected from me?
  • What behaviors are needed to lead this effort?
  • Do I have the skills to effectively lead change?

Is leading this change a priority for me? Engaging your employees in change takes a lot of time. 

Leaders sometimes have to stop doing some behaviors that made them successful; for example, taking action and fixing problems. An approach to adopt is:

  • Frame questions vs. fixing problems;
  • Let people feel the pressure vs protecting and shielding employees;
  • Resist defining roles vs. clarifying roles;
  • Expose and allow conflict vs. resolving or avoiding conflict; and
  • Challenge norms vs. maintaining norms.

People won’t change when they’re comfortable. Nobody changes or evolves from a state of comfort. 

Engage employees to explain the “why” of the change. Define what is over and what isn’t. Notice what derails their positive change behaviors. Seek to understand employees’ perspectives regarding the change process and seek to understand their views and feelings.

LISTEN. Listen to find out:

  • What is the person saying?
  • What are you missing in not considering their viewpoint?
  • Why do staff perceive misalignment between innovations or changes and the existing culture and mission?

Before jumping in, ask yourself, “Wait. Why am I talking?”

Resist the urge to silence dissidents. Allow discomfort and disequilibrium of ideas. Listen to what employees are feeling. They may express that they’re feeling ambiguity, uncertain because they don’t know their role, a loss of control, loss and depression, or loss of status and expertise. In implementing change, be aware of hurdles: cognitive, resources, motivational, system and political.

Give people information. Have a frank discussion about what will happen without the change. Win their hearts and values.