Controlling change

If you believe that people automatically resist change, offer them a new car of their choosing, no strings attached.

          Management Speak: There's a new plan I want to talk over with you.

          Translation: You listen, I'll talk.

          -- IS Survivalist Sanford Wood suggests you listen carefully.

          If you believe that people automatically resist change, offer them a new car of their choosing, no strings attached.

          That's a Gedanken experiment -- a thought experiment, that is, which I proposed last week to demonstrate that the hard-wired-resistance-to-change theory of human behaviour is wrong.

          Analyse why nearly everyone would embrace this change enthusiastically while resisting, say, an ERP implementation, and you'll understand how to lead organisational change.

          First off, employees get to choose their car. If you offer a free Lumina, the acceptance rate would plummet. Why? You made the decision, not they.

          For the most part, people embrace changes they control, and dislike being controlled, which explains why when you lead a change, you need an involvement plan. Project teams must figure out which decisions end-users will make or be consulted on.

          Why else would employees happily take the car? It benefits them, of course. People embrace change that's good for them and resist change that's bad for them.

          The second component of any change management plan is establishing this universal design principle: To the extent possible, project teams will design all changes to benefit those affected by the change. These elements are not difficult to build into a project. To illustrate, early in my career I designed a bar-code-based raw materials tracking system. As part of the process, I attended a union safety meeting to present what we had in mind. The items to be tracked had three-part perforated tracking cards attached to them. Warehouse staff were to wear scanners on belt holsters, remove one part of a card at each tracking location, scan it, and drop it into a box.

          The union representative was outraged. The cables, he told me, created a workplace hazard. Instead of arguing, I asked what would work better. Within 15 minutes the warehouse staff had designed a simple table to hold the bar-code scanners and drop boxes for items as they passed by in the work queue. I was quite proud of that table, and all I had to do to design it was ask a question.

          Speaking of questions, we've launched a new venture on InfoWorld.com. If you're looking for advice about some career conundrum, management mangle, or office intrigue, visit my new forum. Post your question and I'll give you the best answer I can -- as will whoever else wanders by. And yes, it's anonymous.

          Get involved by sending an email to Lewis. Lewis is president of IT Catalysts, an independent consultancy specialising in IT effectiveness and strategic alignment.

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