Why change is difficult and what to do about it

Change is difficult, that’s what we often hear, and yet the pace of change is unrelenting.

 

Let’s start by looking at why change is difficult.

All change involves people and their habits . We build habits over time and these change our attitudes and behaviours. It is possible to change these and to develop new habits, however, it is not easy because habits become embedded. This is particularly strong when we look at cultures in organisations and the habits that have developed within them. Habits show up when we try and answer the question, ‘what is the way we do this in my organisation?’ For example, it could be a simple action taken on a daily basis such as how the leader addresses everyone first thing in a morning.

How often have we heard  the response, ‘we have done this before and it hasn’t worked’ when a change initiative is introduced. Yes, this could be due to a general reluctance to change. However, it can also be due to other factors.  Often people do not see the need to change and are therefore not engaged in the change process, or, the change may not have been addressing the ‘real’ problem.

So, what can help overcome resistance to change?

A way to address these concerns is to treat the change as a messy problem. That is a problem with many dimensions to it and which does not have one clear solution. This is particularly appropriate when change is required around people and their actions. I would suggest therefore that any change program start with a creative problem solving process. This ensures a thorough investigation into the reason why change is needed; that is, asking the question, what is the problem to be resolved by change?

By introducing a creative problem-solving process involving those affected by the change, there is more likely to be a higher rate of engagement in the change. When you engage people and they can understand the need for change, they are much more likely to work to make the change happen rather than resist it.

Engaging people in the change process

Engaging people requires a participative leadership model. To rely on deciding strategy at the top and disseminating it downwards does not engage them. Leaders need to involve people in the process of why the change is needed and what it will look like. It is a top down and bottom up approach.

An excellent example of engaging people in change can be seen in the change process facilitated by Marjorie Parker and detailed in her book ‘Creating Shared Vision‘. The leader created a vision for the culture change that was needed. This was shared throughout the organisation. Each department  interpreting the vision in order to make the changes needed.

A process I undertook when leading a culture change programme involved something similar. We started by involving everyone in identifying the problem, then creating a vision for what it would look like when the problem is resolved. The gap between the current situation and the future vison was identified by teams of people working together. Then behaviours were identified which were needed  to get from the present situation to future vision.

When individual behaviours are identified in the process of change, it breaks the process down into manageable parts. A great overview of change and the importance of behaviours in the change process can be seen here in the interview with Edgar Schein, one of the gurus of culture change.

Change is difficult, it is also a long process and can take years, particularly if it involves culture change. Therefore it is important to keep people energised and engaged throughout the whole process. In the example above, we had regular small collaborative meetings in the different areas where change was needed, and there was constant follow up on the actions required. It was important to keep the momentum and energy up.

Summarising the key points:

  • Change is hard, habits are enduring, and there will be resistance to change.
  • Engage people in order to overcome resistance to change; in the analysis of the problem, and the steps to change.
  • Provide or co-design a compelling vision of the new post-change situation to engage people.
  • A participative and collaborative leadership style is needed to engage people in change initiatives.
  • Working at the level of behaviours makes the change process more tangible.
  • Change takes time and energy and requires resilience of all involved.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

Facilitating creative techniques

I have written previously about the importance of different creative techniques to help with creative problem solving. One of the barriers to introducing these into the workplace may be the confidence of the leader in facilitating them. Here I want to simplify the process and offer some guidelines for facilitating creative techniques in the workplace.

The first point to make is that for many people at the moment, being at work no longer means being present in the workplace, so many of the techniques may need to be adapted for remote working.

To keep this relatively simple, I have divided the topic up into the main issues to consider,   and will address each one in turn.

 Purpose

If people are going to buy into a creative workshop, in whatever form, they need to believe that it has a useful purpose. So, clarify the purpose and consider justifying why this requires a creative workshop? For example, the need to resolve a wicked problem, or a space to create new ideas for the future generation of products.

 Space

The ideal space to hold creativity workshops, would be a flexible space, off-site with outdoor space available. Off site is always best as it signals a different way of working. It is hard to change to a creative mode when working in the same environment as your everyday work. If off-site is not an option try and find a space where a conducive atmosphere can be created – for example where there are no tables, nor computers, and plenty of wall space to exhibit outputs as you go along.

If working remotely, for example using Zoom, then ask that participants come with space around them to work, and with the possibility to move around a little. Ask them to have resources at hand, such as coloured pencils and paper.

 Timing and structure

I have linked these two together because one will determine the other.

If timing is a constraint, that is you only have a couple of hours, then it is impossible to structure that time for a complete problem-solving process. It would be more realistic to introduce a couple of creative techniques such as brainstorming and a playful variation on it, like reversals.

If, on the other hand it is more important to address a serious wicked problem or plan for a future product, then structure the process and carve out the time required.

The level of experience in use of creative techniques will also influence the time required. The more experienced you and/or the team are, the less time you will need to get into the creative mode.

Choice of technique

  • If you are new to this, stay with a technique and structure you feel comfortable with. A facilitator needs to be able to guide participants and then let them free to work on the technique. If you are nervous about trying a new technique you may be tempted to intervene.
  • Choose  according to the purpose of each session.
  • The individual differences of participants may be a factor here. Introverts may take longer to think through their inputs. Build in techniques which they will feel more comfortable with, otherwise the extroverts will dominate.
  • In choosing the techniques and planning the sessions, reflect upon whether each technique will work best done individually, in pairs or as a whole group.
    • Working alone will work well if it’s an early input around perceptions of a problem.
    • Working in pairs for some of the exercises can offer a level of support and comfort.
    • Working as a whole group can produce more ideas, as with brainstorming, however there may be issues around everyone being involved. It will depend upon the group. My advice would be anything beyond six needs to be broken down into smaller groups.

Setting ground rules for the creativity session

 This is crucial and you will need to think this through in advance and present them for agreement at the beginning. Here are the rules I like to establish:

  • Brainstorming rules: defer judgement, go for quantity, the wilder the better, build upon others ideas.
  • Be constructive – no negativity
  • Be flexible and open to other ideas
  • Encourage active listening

You might want to add rules about keeping to time, confidentiality, mobiles off etc.

Resources

What resources will you want, or can have?

For example, I usually have lots of coloured pens, post-its and paper for writing and drawing as well as flip chart boards or walls to put paper on.

In general, for successful facilitation

  •  Have a structure and be flexible enough to change it if necessary. Not all techniques work with everyone. Sometimes you need to try something different to achieve the objective of the session.
  • When facilitating a group, start with some warm up exercise, and also have a couple of short energisers to use when energy is starting to flag.
  • Set out the instructions for the exercise and then stand back and let the participants work with the technique. It is important not to step in unless it is needed to clarify something. Do not try to influence what is happening.

For more ideas around techniques and how to use them, check out the book I co-wrote with Tracy Stanley.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

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Some time ago in my working life as an employee I initiated a change process which made excellent use of creative tools. I will come back to this example in future blog.

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