Resistance to Change - Combat the Fear of the Unknown


Posted By Dr. Tom Sant | Sep 17, 2013


Thirty years ago when libraries began to digitize their holdings, librarians and patrons alike complained about the change. A research study into the effects of library automation by Sarah Fine found widespread resistance to replacing the old card catalog with a computerized database of holdings. As she wrote then, "human beings tend to resist change, even when change represents growth and development….[leading to] greater efficiency and productivity."

In another example of resistance to change, a project manager for a company that implements huge accounting systems shared an anecdote that occurred when she was working on a state government implementation. As part of the project, her team was looking at the existing processes with the goal of streamlining them. She found during this process that a clerk in one department printed out a report each month, punched three holes in it, and sent it to a clerk in another department.

"What does she do with that report?" the project manager asked. Her contact in the state agency simply shrugged. She had no idea.

So the project manager traveled to the other department and found the clerk who received the reports. "I understand that you receive this report each month," she said.

"Yes," the man replied.

"What do you do with them?"

"I put them in this binder," he said. And with that he went into a closet full of three-ring binders containing years and years worth of the same report. He pulled out the latest binder, unsnapped the three rings, and dropped the report into it at the back. He smiled.

"Yes, but what do you do with the reports? Who needs them? Why?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. When I was hired twelve years ago, I was told that when these reports came in I was to file them this way and I've been doing it ever since."

Now that's funny enough (or sad enough, depending on your point of view) by itself. But what happened next moves the whole incident into the realm of bureaucratic insanity. When the project team recommended abolishing the creation and filing of that particular report, since no one used it for any purpose, both the woman who generated it and the man who filed it objected. They didn't want the system changed! It was part of their job, by golly, and they didn't want to lose any of their responsibilities, even the meaningless ones.

Resistance to Change

Change is hard.

Over the eons, human beings have evolved to fight against change. Perhaps a stable, predictable environment is more conducive to survival than one that is more chaotic. Whatever the reason may be, getting folks to change their methods, their attitudes, or their behaviors is a huge challenge.

Recently I have been invited to speak at a number of sales meetings and have been told, in effect, "Please shake up our old guard. They don't want to change, but they need to. The market is different now. We have some tough new competitors. If they keep doing the same things they've always done, they're going to fail."

Well, okay. But I can't help wondering: do these managers really believe that a one-hour speech from some bearded guru is really going to transform their resistant old timers?

People resist change because they fear its unknown consequences. How will the change affect them, their job performance, their relationships with other employees or with customers? How will it affect their earnings? (Any sales manager who has altered a compensation plan knows the kinds of resistance that sort of change inevitably provokes. It isn't pretty.)

One of the most effective steps in reducing resistance to change is to establish throughout the organization a shared understanding that a change is needed. Thus, before launching a new set of tools or a new method of working, managers should communicate clearly why the change is needed.

In other words, the change must be sold to those it affects—literally. Besides establishing that there is a need for change, management also needs to show how the individual employee will benefit from the change. Many a CRM implementation has been wrecked because the sales force saw the change as (1) a way for the company to capture their customer data to make them easier to replace, (2) a way for management to peek over their shoulders to keep tabs on their deals, and (3) busy work that didn't help them close any of those deals.

We Need Change

The new generation of sales enablement tools offer another kind of change. This time, though, smart managers can minimize resistance by showing how the benefits and rewards of using the system—higher win rates, higher quota attainment, more earnings—are more than adequate to compensate for the effort involved in learning the tools and using them.

If you would like to know more about Qvidian's tools for bringing about positive change in your sales organization, and our proven techniques for making that change unfold smoothly, give us a call. Who knows? We might just change your mind.

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