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November 02. 2014 7:02AM

Three ways we respond to change


 


Bob Batcheler 

RECENTLY, at the Deerfield Fair, I watched an amazing demonstration by David Kennard of Wellscroft Farm, in which he showed how he and his border collies used the differing, innate reflexes of sheep and goats to manage a large, mixed herd. The dogs have an uncanny ability to coax the other animals into moving in an orderly way toward a clear goal, and do it with less stress on the animals than when David would invite people from the audience to try to achieve the same results!

As an executive managing a high-growth company, I think often about the way change can be incredibly damaging if not managed effectively, and the herding demonstration brought that truth to mind.

Of course, people are not sheep. (The expression “herding cats” would not have come into common usage if people were like sheep) The key to managing change is to recognize the different ways people respond to change, and manage those different people in appropriate ways.

The key to successful change management

In my experience, people have three common reactions to a proposed change initiative:

1. About 20 percent will embrace the change on its merits.

2. Another 20 percent will resist the change, regardless of its merits, and

3. About 60 percent will wait and see before adopting a position.

Now, while David used the response of the animals to divide the herd, the effective manager of a high-growth company works with these common reactions to unite the company in effective action. The key is that, in business as in politics, the battle is won by winning the undecided.

The losing strategy

Contrast this winning strategy with the common practice of expending the most effort trying to win over the opposition. In my opinion, trying to win over resisters is misguided. Instead, encourage and empower the supporters of the proposed change to win over the undecided.

And the opposers? Here’s how to manage them: First, listen to their concerns and objections. Maybe they have identified a problem you’ve missed.

If that is the case, address their concern. In addition to enabling them to at least grant their consent, you may remove a threat to successful change that would have made life difficult for everyone.

But never neglect your supporters or the undecided in a misguided attempt to win over people who just don’t like change.

Managing exceptions to the 20-20-60 rule

If you sense the general reaction to big changes is significantly different from the typical 20-20-60 split, that variance may be trying to tell you something.

For example, if nearly no one supports the change on its merits, that’s clearly a red flag. It is entirely possible that it is just a bad idea; groupthink within an executive team has produced countless bad ideas. If possible, test the idea on a small scale to understand and remedy the objections, or maybe even develop a better idea.

Assuming the idea has substantial merit, a lack of support is more likely an indication that you just have not spent enough energy seeking buy-in and support from stakeholders most likely to benefit from the change. Instead, identify and recruit your “first followers” (http://sivers.org/ff) prior to rolling out the change more broadly.

Alternatively, consider the case where there is no apparent opposition to a substantive change. A lack of opposition likely indicates a deep lack of trust, whereby people are reluctant to voice their concerns. That’s a big problem beyond the scope of this article.

Finally, consider the case where there seems to be a large cohort of undecideds, which suggests people are confused. Above all else, business leaders owe it to their companies to offer clear direction in the midst of change, communicating the nature and benefits of the proposed change clearly and often.

Change is different from conflict

People will not be herded, but they will respond to managers who address concerns and clarify goals that benefit the larger organization. To manage risk and achieve greater productivity in a challenging and dynamic business environment, a business leader must understand the behavior of groups and individuals and their response to change.

However you manage change, be aware that change has a close cousin: conflict. I’ll talk about managing conflict in the December Ask-the-Expert series. I look forward to hearing from you about this article. Please contact me directly at babatcheler@newforma.com.

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Bob Batcheler, aka “Batch,” is executive vice president of strategy and a co-founder of Newforma (newforma.com), a Manchester-based developer of project information management software for architects, engineers, builders and facility owners. A civil engineer by education and experience, Batch was drawn to the power of technology to transform the global facility design and construction industry through his prior work at Softdesk and Autodesk.

In May, Batch and two of his partners were recognized by the New Hampshire High Tech Council as the 2014 Entrepreneurs of the Year. He is also a member of the organizing committee for TEDxAmoskeagMillyard (tedxamoskeagmillyard.org) which will be presented in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University on Nov. 15, 2014. He is an active supporter and member of the board of advisors for Stay Work Play New Hampshire (stayworkplay.org), and a member of the leadership team of Do You Know Him? (doyouknowhim-nh.org), a ministry to our Manchester neighbors who are homeless or hungry.


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