Learning From The Frog And Scorpion
One of the greatest difficulties confronted by management in almost any organization is dealing with resistance to change. I have seen many occasions of organizational plans as well as improvement projects fall apart, simply because this very normal human behavior is not being appropriately addressed. Indeed, we all have the tendency to resist change of almost any kind because change means giving up comfortable habits or venturing into fears of the unknown. We would all rather remain at status quo because it is a lot safer while change brings with it an element of risk.
Yet we can’t run away from change… changes like death and taxes are always there. Organizations that failed to respond to changes will eventually fail. Of the top 100 American companies listed in 1900, guess how many of them are still around today? Answer: Only 16.
Eighty-four top companies just vanished in the space of 91 years! The inability to response to a changing environment is one main contributing factor to their demise. As Harvard professor Dr Rosabeth Moss Kanter said, “Those organizations which either fail to understand the need for change or rare inept in their ability to deal with it, will fade or fall behind – if they survive at all.”
So organizations must change in order to deal with external changes. In order for an organization to change, the people in it must change too. However, people, by their very nature see change as a threat rather than as an opportunity.
To get people in an organization to response positively to change is to help them see the opportunities in it. The Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two characters, one meaning “danger” and the other meaning “opportunity”; giving rise to the saying that behind every crisis lies an opportunity.
Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “The entrepreneur always search for change, respond to it and exploit it as an opportunity.” Successful individuals and organizations recognize that things must change and will change.
Therefore, they position themselves to exploit change while others see change as only to protect themselves from it.
In organizations, people resist change because change is often presented to them “from above” and which they have no control over. Too often the reasons for the change is not clearly communicated and therefore it’s not surprising that change appears threatening to them. This is especially so when they feel that their job security is threatened or when change threatens their sense of competence. An example would be case of an elderly employee being told that he has to be computer-literate or else… He is not likely to see this new requirement as an opportunity to learn something but instead feel that his job is being threatened. Naturally be will resist.
How then should one deal with resistance to change? Employees need the following factors to be conveyed to them in order to enable them to go through change successfully:
1. Specify reasons for the change
People need to be sold to. Telling them that it “has got to be this way” will not gain their commitment to the change. Providing reasons for the proposed change eliminates the “fear of the unknown.”
2. Accurate and specific information
It is necessary to avoid hiding the truth. If full information is held back and sincerity is in question, the level of trust will drop, while the level of resistance will rise.
3. Opportunity and encouragement to give feedback
There is a saying that “People commit to what they themselves create.” If they feel that they are a part of the change efforts, commitment is much higher. Unfortunately, in many organizations, getting people involved is often neglected and whilst the intentions were never to ignore the employee’s feedback, there is a need to actually actively solicit for their feedback.
4. Clearing personal doubts and providing reassurance
Employees going through changes will have concerns, particularly with regards to their own self-interest. It is therefore important to provide them with the opportunity to raise questions so that their doubts can be addressed. Giving them reassurances would make them feel more positive about any pending changes.
OVERCOMING RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
In the area of change, one of the major concerns brought up by managers is how to deal with what they refer to as deadwood – people who have been in the organization for many years and are not receptive to change. Most managers’ focus is on how to change these seemingly difficult people to be more obedient and compliant employees. If such be the focus, then results will be difficult to achieve.
No one will change just because someone else insists that they do. People will only change if they themselves feel the need to change, and that the change is good for them. The issue is therefore not how to change people, but how to influence them to want to change themselves. Obviously, if you have not been successful in dealing with deadwood, then the first change has to got to come from within you.
You may have to start by changing your approach. In the first place referring to them as deadwood is negative. Perhaps one should consider them as a challenge to our ability to manage change instead. To be better equipped to manage change with employees, it is necessary to understand the various ways they react to change. Reactions to change include what I refer to as the scorpion way of looking at changes.
As the story goes, there was a frog by the side of a river which it wanted to cross over on a rainy day. As he was about to swim across, a scorpion came up to him and asked, “Frog, could you give me a lift across the river? I can’t swim and I need your help.”
The frog replied, “You must be crazy. You are a scorpion; you might sting me and I will die,” whereupon the scorpion retorted, “don’t be foolish! If I sting you and you die, I would drown.” Upon hearing this, the frog agreed to help him.
Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung and paralyzed the frog. As the frog began to sink, he asked the scorpion why he broke his promise. The scorpion replied, “Frog, I know it’s foolish of me to sting you, but I have a problem. You see, I’m a scorpion and I’m born to sting, and I can’t change.”
Some people in organizations behave like scorpions. They claim that they can’t change because that’s the way they are. Typically they would say, “I can’t change, I’m like that one-lah.” But like the scorpion, they will perish.
The other typical reaction to change is denial. They pretend that there are in fact no changes going on, and thus, no need for them to adjust accordingly. If you take a frog and throw it into a pot of hot water, it will react by jumping out immediately. If you put the same frog into a pot of cold water, it’ll settle down. If you then proceed to put that pot over a fire and boil the water, what do you think the frog will do? Actual experiments have proven that the frog in the pot will become hot soup!
There are people in organizations who will behave like that frog. They could be aware of changes going on around them, but will insist that it does not affect them and continue to do what they have always done. Eventually, the refusal to change will put them out of place, and like the frog, they will be boiled alive.
If you are dealing with a lot of scorpions and frogs in the organization, it is necessary to have a process for managing change. One of the first things one must be able to do is to carry out a change meeting, a meeting for introducing changes, and obviously the objective is to get their commitment to change.
The following format might be considered:
1. Explain the need for change and how it came about
Example: “I am calling this meeting to explain the change of responsibility between the both of you. The change is part of the organization’s new policy to provide employees with multi-skills to help them in their career development.”
2. Describe the change in detail
Example: “The exact change would involve the following…”
3. Explain how the change will affect the employee
Example: “This change of responsibilities will have some effect on you and as I can see it, the following may be affected.”
4. Ask for questions and concerns
Example: “I know some of you will be a little apprehensive about this. The best thing to do is sort out any concern so that we can make the change as smooth as possible. What are some questions you might have?”
5. Listen to their feelings and respond emphatically
Some people ask questions but they don’t listen. It is important to do so and be able to empathize with their feelings.
6. Share your own feelings as well whenever appropriate
Example: “I understand how you feel about this and the concerns you have. Personally, I am quite worried about it myself, but I felt that since the new system works in Singapore, it can’t be that bad. Furthermore, if we all put our efforts together, I figure we can pull this through .
7. Ask for the employee’s support and commitment to make the change work
Example: “Well, we have talked quite a bit about this. Can I count on you to make this work?” WAW