Managing Change in an Organization

Updated 4 May 2012 A. Ochs

Continual improvement in the workplace is about change, about getting better at what we do; it’s about evolution. In today’s market place, it’s often those who can change the most quickly and efficiently who are rewarded with success. Yet so often there is resistance to change in the workplace. How many times have we heard the expression “…but we’ve always done it this way”, or “Don’t reinvent the wheel”. Well, consider what it would be like the wheel was never re-invented. We would all be driving around with thousand-pound granite tires on our cars. Sometimes the wheel must be reinvented to bring us into the future.

With all of the positive effects changes can have, why do so many resist change? Often it’s simply our human instincts that tell us that change is something to be negatively viewed; there is a feeling of security in what is already known. Other times the resistance occurs because it’s harder to change than to continue doing things the same way they’ve always been done. Whatever the reason, initiating a culture of continual improvement requires that resistance to change be addressed.

The following ideas may help when dealing with a culture that resists change.

Plan and Control the Changes

Since continual improvement rather than chaos is the objective, changes must be carefully planned and controlled. If they aren’t, the workplace may suffer from “knee-jerk” reactions, which only increase the resistance to change.

A key role of quality systems is to manage changes by planning and controlling them. When changes are well planned, there are greater assurances of success. Controlling change by initiating it in a systematic manner reduces the stress on those affected by the change.

Get Input from Those Affected

Those affected by a change will be more likely to support it when they have been allowed to help create it. Getting input from the people affected is very important, and can be extremely valuable, as well. It’s often the ones who are most familiar with an area who can provide the best ideas for improvements. There will be less resistance to change if those who will be affected by it have the opportunity to provide their input.

Measure the Successes

There is nothing like positive reinforcement. A quality system inherently involves collection of data, so use the data to show those involved that the change has resulted in improvements in the workplace. After a few successes, those who have resisted change may become more comfortable that change can be very positive for them.

Remember There Are No Failures

Although nobody wants to be unsuccessful, failures can be the most valuable experiences. Often a great deal more is learned when things don’t go as planned. For those who resist change, rather than viewing the outcome as negative, consider the learning experience as the success. What was learned is important and will make the next attempt more likely to be a success.

Be Patient With the Strongest “Stragglers”

It’s very frequently the strongest opponents of change who eventually (albeit sometimes over quite long periods of time) become the greatest supporters. These people provide enormous contributions to continual improvement by example and their own “testimonials”. Unfortunately for the proponents of change, there seems to be no way to speed the transition of others from opponent to supporter; it has to occur for each in their own time. But in the long run, patience and persistence with resistors of change will be worth it.

Enjoy the Journey

Continual improvement, by definition, means that there is no finish point, no final destination. It is a continual journey. So as with life, enjoy the experiences, the changes in scenery, and enjoy the ride.


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