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Eliminating resistance to change.

Change is a constant in modern working life. No matter how managers and employees struggle to control their lives, change is forced on them, reinforcing the feeling of being a pawn in someone else's game. Since change is inevitable, managers must work to give their staff a sense of control over changing situations. To do this, managers should use the following three tactics when introducing change.

Let it sink in. People need enough time to think change through for themselves, time to get mentally prepared for a new situation. A change may be in the planning stages for several months before word is finally spread and implementation begins. The resistance that develops may not be to the change but rather to the speed with which management actually wants that change implemented.

Consider this example: A young, high-tech computer software organization was growing steadily at approximately 23 percent per year. It became obvious that the original facility would not be large enough for the growing staff. At the time, interest rates were at 18 percent, so management decided to buy and refurbish an existing building rather than to build a new facility. The building it chose was 60 miles away from the original site.

Management planned to split the work force, with some departments remaining at the original building and others moving to the new building. Meanwhile, many employees asked the vice president of operations for more details. Although she had already made up her mind concerning splitting the work force, she refused to say anything because she believed that as soon as the announcement was made, her office would be flooded with complaints.

The week before the grand opening of the new facility, each employee was sent a memo with the details on the site reassignments. By noon on Friday, 941 of 3,710 employees had handed in their resignations. Had she given people time to mentally assimilate the change, they could have prepared for it.

Suppose, for example, a company decides to downsize by laying off 20 percent of its staff by the end of the week. With hardly any warning or preparation time, a severance check would provide little if any consolation to employees under such conditions.

Forward-looking organizations tell employees of impending layoff plans up to one year in advance. Employees then have time to learn new skills, prepare resumes, and start the job search process. Although the initial announcement angers people, the preparation time leaves them with a good feeling about the treatment they received from their former employer. Treating people with respect and concern never hurts a corporate image.

Teach the staff well. People are scared of making mistakes. Often when a new system or procedure is put in place, employees fight to retain the old system simply because they are apt to make mistakes on the unfamiliar one. Employees need as much information as possible about the change to get comfortable with it.

In the best of all possible worlds, when a person gets a new position, the person he or she is replacing works with them for two weeks, ensuring a smooth transition. That rarely happens, however. For a new employee it is usually sink or swim.

Similarly, employees should not be left to flounder on their own when systems change. If a company switches computer systems, for example, it is important to have training sessions. These sessions help eliminate employees' anxiety over change and make the transition smoother.

Relinquish some control. People want to have as much control over their jobs as they do over their personal lives. A good manager looks for ways that will allow those affected by a change to participate in the planning or implementation of that change. Resistance to change may not mean that people object to the change, just to the way the change was introduced. Careful planning must go into the preliminary phases.

A manufacturer and supplier of specialty auto parts, for example, watched its sales and profits drop off by two thirds. Severe cost-cutting measures had to be instituted if the company was to survive. Management decided that the staff salary expense should be cut 20 percent. The simplest way to make this cut would be to lay off 20 percent of the work force, However, the company decided against this for two reasons. First, it would have a major affect on company morale; and second, those who remained would have to pick up the duties of those who were let go. When people have too much to do, tasks do not get the proper attention and quality suffers.

Management came up with six options and then let each employee select which one was best for him or her. Besides agreeing to no raises for one year and a shared payment schedule for medical coverage, the employees were asked to choose one of the following:

* Five months of Fridays without work or pay

* One month off with no pay

* Ten percent reduction in salary for one year

* Elimination of vacation pay (two weeks) and all holiday pay for one year

* Half days of work and pay for two months

* Two and a half months (June 15-August 31) of Fridays and Mondays without work or pay

Most employees chose the last option. Although this process was a nightmare for the personnel department, the process ensured everyone's commitment. No one resigned or complained, and levels of morale and productivity remained constant. By giving the employees influence over what was happening to them, the company was able to avoid any resistance.

Change is inevitable. The question is what role management should play in controlling the process. Three factors should be considered to minimize the sense of upheaval--timing, information, and influence. Understanding the importance of these three factors reduces employees' resistance to change significantly and lets them know that the organization has a genuine concern for their welfare.

DeAnne Rosenberg, CSP (certified speaking professional), is a lecturer and training consultant in Lexington, Massachusetts. She specializes in management education and supervisory development. For more information, call 617/862-6117.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:organizational change
Author:Rosenberg, Deanne
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:1009
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