Barriers to Change

Change can sometimes be hardChange management has been a widely used term for a decade or two. Some think that the term should already be forgotten, because modern work and leadership are constantly in change. The working environment and culture needs to be evaluated and improved all the time in many organizations.

Yet, many organizations let people, who have no idea about how change should be followed through, manage change. This spring I had the opportunity to witness just that. An organization took a new procedure into use, however, the evangelists and “change agents” didn’t believe in the new way of working themselves. For example, a training session started by stating how the old ways will be missed and how sorry we are about the not-so-good new way of doing things and that one just has to manage somehow. This is fortunately a rare and extreme example, but I was still shocked to encounter such behavior since change management isn’t exactly a new thing.

Bob Pike held a session in the Training Conference in February about how to design participant-centered training. Actually the whole session was about the barriers to change organizations and people can have. After all, training and learning often means learning a new or different way of doing things. After each training there’s always the challenge of how to keep the new procedure as the primary way of doing things, instead of just slipping back to the old habits.

There are three very clear barriers to change. Old habits and customs may be so strong that even if the new way of doing is better, the person may still not want to leave his comfort zone and change the old habit. In an earlier Cloudriven blog post, Janne Haonperä told us how habits are formed and how to break them.

Another obstacle for change is the environment, i.e. the culture. Sometimes the workplace and the organization don’t support the change that a certain individual or group wants to follow through but rather pushes people back to the old ways. If the environment doesn’t support the change, the person has to put on a lot of effort and be even more determined in order to get the new ways into use than if the environment would support the change.

One simple example is doing office work standing instead of sitting. If one doesn’t have an (electrically) adjustable table and there are no tables suitable for working standing up in the office and there are no desires to get a suitable table, is the change hard to follow through. One might have the opportunity to work at home and get a suitable table there but if the support of the environment is lacking the change might be almost impossible. With good arguments one might be able to change the environment’s general stand and eventually get to organize the change with the support of the environment.

Third barrier to change is too many changes happening at the same time. If you try to manage many changes at the same time, it’s much harder to reach the goal successfully. Change and learning always require resources, energy and concentration. Many changes happening at the same time usually leads to bad results.

For instance, if you decide to start a new life, stop smoking, start eating healthier and even exercise more, it is likely that these simultaneous changes take too much energy and you eventually go back to the old and easy ways. However, dividing the one big change into smaller chunks and following each through one by one will help you to achieve long-lasting results. When you’ve finished with the first step successfully, it’s easier and more motivating to take the second step and learn something new. So learn first how to work while you’re standing and after that you can learn how to use the mouse with your left hand. Don’t be too greedy and try to change everything at once or your stress levels will skyrocket and you’ll quit more easily!

Whether you’re planning to make some changes in your personal life or in your organization, you will be more likely to succeed if rhythm, repetition, reflection and recognition are taken into account in your actions. Read more about our TrainEngage Method.

Being a Leader Is, In Fact, Fun and Easy

Photo: KP Juurikkala

Photo: KP Juurikkala

Being a leader is really not that hard. Of course you will encounter difficult situations, but ultimately leadership is just ordinary interaction between two people. It’s all about people skills.

The essence of leadership is genuine interest in other people and their work at the workplace. Unfortunately many bosses have no idea, what employees really do, let alone how they are doing. Interest in other person’s work shows respect and of course we all hope to be respected. That is to say we all want our work to matter.

Showing interest is not the same as micromanaging. Employees are the best experts in their own work. At least my employees have usually done their work remarkably better than I would’ve ever done. This is especially true, when you are leading an expert organization. It’s not an overstatement to say that a good leader always hires people, who are smarter than herself. Talented employees make the boss shine.

Responsibility is an important motivator. When people trust me, I want to be worthy of that trust. At least that motivates me to strive hard and exceed expectations. Positive expectations produce positive results.

No one succeeds every single time, neither the employees, nor the boss. Even this situations can be resolved by relying on good manners. You have to admit mistakes and fix them. And preferably also apologize and forgive. You shouldn’t get stuck on failures, but you should learn from the mistakes.

We carried out a significant organizational and cultural restructuring in my workplace, and one of the most important things was that managers took responsibility and really made changes. The initiatives came from the employees. Top management’s message to the managers was that you’re allowed to make mistakes and nothing should be left undone because of the fear of failure. If you make a mistake, don’t worry about it, fix it. But most importantly, changes have to happen. No one likes to be in stagnant water for too long.

Giving feedback is an essential part of interaction at work, both critical and especially positive feedback. A thank-you will encourage you to push forward. As for corrective feedback, it’s every employees’ right. Nothing is worse than doing wrong and having no one to tell you that. The employee has to have the right and the chance to adjust her actions. In the worst case scenario, mistakes are caused by misunderstanding, which can lead to large-scale problems.

Performance appraisals with my employees have always been the highlights of my work year. It’s great to be able to listen to people talk about their work, accomplishments and expectations. What’s even greater is when you can give feedback, perhaps trust an employee with even more responsibilities, and begin to execute development plans together. I’m extremely impressed about how different things motivate people and how different jobs people like. I’m glad we’re not all the same and we don’t want the same things. This is why every job will eventually find its doer.

When the relationships at work work, work can also be fun. My own principle has been that you should be allowed to laugh as much as you’re paid at the workplace. Honestly, it’s really fun to work with me, when things are going well and everyone is doing their part. Of course other kinds of situations can occur as well, but those can be resolved professionally.

I’ve done my leadership career in the public sector, where the ways to reward are quite limited. When you can’t use money as a motivator, the other sides of work are emphasized. Job satisfaction, responsibility and challenges are even more sustainable incentives than cash. There isn’t that much money in the world that would keep me in a bad workplace. I bet the same applies to you.

The writer is the Director of Urban Planning at Järvenpää city until the end of the year and the Director-General of the Regional State Administrative Agency of Southern Finland starting from 1.1.2015.

Gamification – Soft Way to Manage Change

Juhani VuotiWe’ve all had the experience of joining a new community. Whether it’s a new workplace, sports team, spouse’s family or something completely different, some of the habits and thoughts seem strange at first. But little by little all those oddities become more and more familiar until they reach the stage of normality.

Leaders face a similar problem, when they want to introduce new procedures and ways of work to their team or organization. People simply feel that the old ways are the best. I want to encourage all you leaders out there: your employees are not that different or more stubborn than the rest of us. Resistance to change is completely normal and typical for us humans. On the one hand, the members of the work community try to defend themselves, and on the other hand, they try to protect their community together. It doesn’t really matter, whether the employees are juniors or seniors, the challenge is always the same: how to change procedures and thinking as painlessly and easy as possible?

All new habits and procedures are not that easy to digest, and success depends largely on how things are communicated. Sometimes organizations use traditional means, like sanctions and rewards, to drive change, but promising big bonuses or threatening with layoffs rarely change people’s behavior for better in the long run. When the promises and threats are no longer valid, the effect will fade off and people will adopt their old behavior patterns. In addition, people’s tolerance will increase with time, so in the future small rewards and sanctions won’t be enough anymore; in order to make an effect, the size of the rewards and the severity of the sanctions have to be increased. What was enough yesterday, will not suffice tomorrow.

But there are some organizations that take into account their employees’ motivators in change management. Gamification is a soft way to guide people to the desired direction. When game elements are used in change management, it’s possible to tap into people’s intrinsic motivation. For each of us, meaningful work means different things. By taking into account the intrinsic motivation – what really drives people – you can lead the change and lead your employees to the new direction.