Editor's View

Overcoming fear of change

Sep 06 issue
 

One man’s exciting challenge can be another’s nightmare. All too often that’s exactly how change is viewed by an organisation. The CEO, even the senior management, may regard changing an organisation as innovative, fulfilling and likely to lead it to even greater success. At less senior levels, change can be viewed with absolute suspicion. Mention change and the first question that occurs to an employee is, ‘How will I be affected’.

A moment’s thought can show that these are utterly obvious statements – the directors are in control, they know exactly what will happen, when it will happen and no doubt have forecast with some certainty that the outcome will be very positive for the organisation itself and the majority of the people who work there.

Fear and suspicion
Unfortunately, this is not matched by employees’ experiences. They have little control over the process, no idea what will happen or when, and furthermore probably don’t believe senior management’s predictions. For most of them change could be bad – less opportunities, new ways of working perhaps, more talented people challenging for their position. Uncertainty can be scary if you have little control.

Many of the experts at our upcoming Directors’ Summit (see page 30) have seen first-hand how implementing change can split a company. In fact, I’ve just been watching such a change management programme in a detached way myself – one of my close relations has been brought into a business, at a fairly junior level, as part of a complete change of strategy instituted by the CEO. Viewing all this as a fly on the wall has been a fascinating exercise. The resistance, even at lower levels, has been quite extraordinary, even to the extent of certain employees misquoting the CEO to imply that there is no support at the top for any of the changes at all. It’s a pitched battle down there among the more junior employees to protect position, roles and influence.

Explain yourself
All this is a salutary reminder that even minor changes should be planned carefully so that they are introduced after consultation with employees and with consideration. A strategy can be tweaked in minor ways to make it more palatable, perhaps, and therefore ease its introduction. Huge efforts need to be put into communicating what the change is and the reasons why it’s important for everyone to embrace it. Pie in the sky perhaps but it must be worth a try!