The importance of asking the right questions before a transition state

Executive resistance: if you are a a change manager you may frequently encounter this.

Laden with responsibilities, executives may be prone to a few common issues. For instance, you may often find them worrying about the impact of the change on their role, as well as on their salaries and bonuses, or even their status and how they are perceived. Thus there are 4 different barriers that you could call “executive barriers.”

  •  Assuming – because there is a project/change management team – that that they have no further role and the work will just be done and the change effected. Every change manager regularly hears comments like”That’s why we hired you!”
    The answer here is simple: “We just put the plan together, but you need to execute the plan“. One suggestion can be to have a face-to-face executive sponsor session, where you explain to a restricted group of executives their role in the proposed change. Here, you explain to them how to be present, proactive and to communicate effectively with their people; and the consequences of not doing so. Emphasising the risks if they fail, is powerful – because fear is a powerful emotional driver.
  •  Sticking to the organisational culture: “We’ve always done it this way!“, is an expression you typically encounter during a change. Executives may feel this just as much as their employees, but they may also be unaware of the fact that the proposed change could affect the culture. Such lack of awareness is clearly problematic: if there is no common view of the future, how can a change manager identify what success means, let alone effect change?
  •  Expressing their authority: “Who’s the boss?” We expect team leaders to point to the way to change to people, but what if they are invisible to their staff? Sometimes executives, managers and team leaders are too busy to communicate with people. They delegate to someone else who doesn’t have the same authority. People always tend to follow the leader, and may not be keen on listening to or “obeying” anyone who is not their boss.
  • Assuming that the right answer is enough: “We need to change because … ”  Once they tell employees why they have to change, executives automatically assume they will “get it” and there will not be any resistance. Paradoxically, this can itself be a huge cause of resistance.

The maturity of starting with the right question

In South Africa, it is possible to identify the least and most mature industries when it comes to change management.

Are Governmental and Parastatal organisations the most resistant/less change-mature?

Political affiliation, parties and bureaucracy are often obstacles for change managers. To begin with,  you often find people working there only because of who they know, rather than because of their skills and experience. This means you may end up with executives who may lack competence or, worse, are just political players. Moreover, bureaucracy slows things, meaning it takes a lot longer to get things done. Here that first barrier is  a major problem because – if they hire change managers – they could expect them to do all the work. Change management could be just a tick box item: something to get done and move on because – they have a budget that must spent or lost the next year, and if not spent well will incur criticism from their stakeholders.

So, on one hand they can be more keen on investing in a change management function, but on the other can also end up considering it as little more than a simple expense to be managed.

The most change mature/less resistant industry may be Financial Services

There is a strong uptake of the understanding of change management, along with a better comprehension of the executive roles during the change process. They are keen to realise the value that change management offers and, most of all, are aware of complexity and the dangers of change saturation. Thus they are creating change portfolios, looking at change across the board rather than on a single project basis. The question here is not only ‘Why do we need to change‘ but mainly :”How do we implement change across the organisation?” This maturity stems from their IT experience during the 80’s and 90’s. Earlier than many other industries, they invested on IT infrastructure, without properly understanding their return of investment. They have had to adapt to realise the potential benefits and, hence, to optimise the ultimate return on investment.

You need to take these differences into account when you are involved in any change project. But, even while you may be operating in a more mature change management environment, you still need to look out for, and address, any possible executive resistance if you want to ensure better outcomes.