Organizations are not like the Borg, even if it seems like it sometimes. They cannot actually force employees to assimilate.
Employees who really don’t like what is happening will leave, which will force the organization to spend time and money hiring and training someone new. The ones who can’t – or are too stubborn to leave – will resist. This resistance, futile or not, may manifest as delaying participation or putting their precious time looking for simpler, easier workarounds that defeat the entire purpose of your intended change.
And, of course, there will also be the employees who won’t resist so much as wonder how to get it done so long that they’ll miss your deadlines. You know who I mean. They are nice people but they just can’t tell how important this latest corporate project is in the greater scheme of things so they say they will get back to you. Plus, they’re busy, so busy that they don’t actually respond to your emails after a while because it stresses them out to think about doing even more work.
Studies such as Best Practices in Change Management- 2014 Edition, suggest that most resistance to change management – including the issues that drive employees to delay or leave – can be predicted and avoided. You have to have a good, proactive change management strategy. As part of that, you have to proactively address resistance at all levels and throughout the process with the help of your senior leaders.
That means that everyone in your organization knows that this project is important to the C-suite. It means that that vision is so clear and pervasive that it’s like a beacon on a foggy night with all ships at sea using it as their guidepost. No one wonders if this change is a good idea. They’ve heard the business imperatives that are driving the change and believe that the risks of not changing are too great not to change. They know that splintering off into mini-projects that are “better” options or finding workarounds will not help the company reach the desired outcome. For lack of a better phrase, they have a single light in the darkness that ensures everyone is aimed in the same direction and, in the same way that Tolkien had one ring to lead them all, ensure that the plan rises above potential derailments such as active lack of participation and even “change fatigue” (having to adapt to too many new things at once) that leads to passive resistance.
How involved the senior leaders of the organization are in communicating the change is basically a reflection of how committed the company is to change. Executives are busy so when they put in the effort to consistently, visibly show their support, it sends a huge message across the company about priorities. In fact, an Economist report on why good strategies fail cited “C-suite executives are often missing in action” as a major factor.
Without all of your senior leaders helping out, you are basically being told to carry a boulder uphill, in the snow, with one arm tied behind your back – while you fight off a pack of wolves. From the perspective of your employees, your project will give off that unique, unpleasant aroma of yet another project from corporate that will be a waste of time and money and just give way to another, equally pointless venture in another quarter or two. Not a great way to launch a new initiative.
You need them for more than communication, though. Senior leaders — especially those in the C-suite — are critical in dealing with managers who resist the transformation. Sometimes it’s as simple as one group just does not want to participate in the latest dumb idea from corporate or will disrupt their “real jobs.” Sometimes another team genuinely doesn’t think your plan is the best way to move forward. These responses mean your change management strategy need to be revisited to ensure you address the issue any where else it may pop up.
In the short term, though, you have to get everyone on the same page. But what if the leader of the opposition point of view is more senior than you or other members of the project team? What if the team he’s on is part of a vitally important part of the change? How do you get past this divergence? Yes, the project team can try to address it on their own. In this scenario, the disagreeing teams haggle and eventually one side gets its way. In some cases, the future direction is based on which team has the biggest political support or is more stubborn or some other basis. Very rarely is it based on empirical data or analysis of the process will change and impact to the company.
Even intelligent, well-meaning adults can have different perspectives on the same issue, based on their personal knowledge and experience. That’s ok. That’s good that they have passion. However, you can’t let this resistance go on indefinitely or it will cause permanent damage. Relationships will suffer. Budget and time will be wasted as your team tries to accommodate and create a process or tools that fail to achieve the goal. People will become demoralized and your changes of successfully completing your marketing transformation will go down.
However, an active executive sponsor can really help out when differing views of what is best for the company come into conflict. He can force the conversation to take a less analytical tone. The exec can hold teams responsible for progress. Worse case scenario, if the executive can’t manage the resistance, he can remove managers who will not support the change before it becomes a problem (yes, I’ve seen this happen, not pretty but it sent the message loud and clear to everyone else about where the company was going and how important that was).
Its never easy, fast, or simple doing things the right way. But the benefits to the company — and your mental health — will be far better if you secure active executive support before you roll out your transformation strategy.
Comments welcome, especially if you have some examples of how your executive support — or lack of support — impacted your organization’s transformation.