Have you ever been asked in an interview, “How would you implement a change initiative?” It’s as if implementing a new program or changing a policy can be executed by following a recipe. I’m willing to bet that if you view each change initiative as an independent event with a series of steps, chances are your implementation efforts have been met with fear and resistance, if not outright mutiny. The problem is a matter of perspective. Organizational resiliency and the degree to which change initiatives are embraced are driven not by the effectiveness of the ‘roll-out strategy’ but by the underlying relationship that the company and its management has with their workforce.
“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”
— King Whitney Jr.
Having a roll-out strategy that starts and stops with each change initiative is counterproductive to the organizational climate. It’s like a series of one night stands instead of a longstanding relationship built on an investment of commitment and trust. Adaptability, resiliency, and trust must be fostered over time. This is why the competence of leadership at all levels is so critical. Developing an organizational culture of alignment, where employees’ values, perspectives, and priorities are ‘aligned’ with the overall strategic direction of the company or team, helps mitigate the shock of any individual change initiative.
Employees within a culturally aligned organization may not agree with every directive or initiative, but they are more likely to trust their leaders and subsequently accept or even embrace decisions that are made, even those that are unpopular. Change is viewed more as an evolutionary process than a series of periodic singular events. When new initiatives are brought forward, team members feel more engaged in the evolutionary process and have a greater comfort level toward any potential impact. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by fear and trepidation at something new, they maintain a rational perspective focused on the immediate opportunities and longer term benefits.
Teams with a strong culture of alignment are far less resistant to change because the idea of change itself is less threatening. Let’s face it, most people dislike being forced to change. There is some level of comfort even in the consistency of misery. Teams that operate within a culture of alignment may never enthusiastically embrace the idea of change, but will accept it as a necessary business reality. These team members trust their leaders and their values are fundamentally aligned with the general vision and mission of the organization.
“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”
— Peter Senge
Developing a culture of alignment in any organization or team requires a considerable investment in time, but it’s not rocket science. Realize, however, that any attempt to alter the culture must be carefully planned and executed. Managers too often function as information conduits. They orchestrate and delegate, hopefully participate, but when new directives are introduced, they simply call a meeting and make an announcement. Cultural transformation requires a little more time and thought than that!