Tag Archives: internal marketing

People hate change! Do they really?

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I have been reading a lot around the subject of change management. Almost every model, approach , paradigm starts with the basic assumption that ‘people don’t like change‘.  I for one don’t completely agree with that basic assumption and I am dedicating this post to explaining why. I think people don’t hate change, they just hate badly executed changes.

Here is my fundamental question

‘If people queue up to buy the latest phone, why don’t they queue up to benefit from the changes that organisations launch’

Surely buying a phone is a big change. New phone means new accessories, new features, new chargers plus the effort to get your head around all of that.  That is a lot of change and a lot of effort. Why don’t people hate that? Why don’t people resist that change?

Now replace ‘phone’ in the above situation with ‘house’, ‘car’ or anything else and the same can be argued. In these scenarios people seem to enjoy the change and in fact look forward to the change. Why then the same people resist change when it comes to their professional life?

let’s take the same phone and think about a OS upgrade. I bet lot of us have hate those. On the face of it, these upgrades are supposed to make our phones perform better but they rarely do to begin with. Many a times we are not aware of the potential problems and there are times when we regret the day we decided to upgrade the OS.  New Phone and New OS are both essentially change but I am sure while most of us love the former and we dread the later.  I wonder why is that. Now if you had bought a new Samsung Note 7, then it is possible that next time you will be less excited about even a new phone. Guess that tells us something – People don’t hate change they just hate badly executed change.

Let me say that again ‘people don’t really hate change’. They in fact love change when it comes in the right proportion, at the right time and in the right way.  If I can walk up to my employees and offer them something that they know will make their life better, I don’t think they will hate the change. The problem is that employees are never presented change in a way that they can embrace and enjoy.

Most change management projects start with the grim view of employees i .e. they don’t like change and more often than not it is downhill from there.  Instead of looking at how we can present the change differently, we curse and moan about the users. Many a times we conclude that employees are the biggest problem and for better part of the project we try to solve that problem.

Here is a different way of approaching this

Let’s start with a different assumption – ‘People love change’. If a proposed change is not working then the issue if with the change and not with people. This will make you approach the problem in a different way. You will try to create a change package that is of the right proportion, at the right time and the right way. You will keep trying till you are able to excite your users about the change. You will aim for the day when people will fight with each other to be the first recipient of the change you are offering. I am not saying that you can make every change exciting. There are changes which will never fall in this category but most can.

We need changes to be like a new phone (not note 7 🙂 ) and not like the new OS 🙂

Organisational change is not about the change !

It isn’t. It is about people/ employees/ internal customers and not about the change. How many times you have heard these statements ?

  • We need to embed change
  • We are rolling out change
  • Change has to be embraced

We make it so much about the ‘change’ that we forget that it is the people/employees/ internal customers who are changing. Change in itself is nothing. What we call ‘change’ is the act of people changing their behaviours. Most of the times ‘change’ as a noun becomes much more important than ‘change’ as a verb. We start talking about ‘a change’ as opposed to ‘ to change’. This is where I feel most change management projects miss the point – ‘Change management projects are about people and not about change itself’

Let me help you visualise this. On the left is how we mostly do it and on the right is how I am proposing we should do it.

people-and-change

  • If you put ‘Change’ at the heart of everything (left), then you will have change driving people and that in turn driving the benefits
  • If you put ‘People’ at the heart of everything (right), then you will have people driving the change and that in turn driving the benefits

This all might be very subtle but I think this matters. I think people (employees) need to feel that they are driving change and not the other way round. To achieve this we need to think people first. We need to create structures that empower people to drive change. We need people to see benefits as their achievement and not achievement of the change project. To begin with, we need to acknowledge that ‘change is about people and not about change’. I have few more thoughts around the subject but that’s for another day!

Change is a transaction… whether you like it or not

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  • Change happens , just get on it with
  • Employees are paid to work, they don’t need to be marketed to
  • Employees are no customers. There is accountability and ownership.

These are some of the reactions that I have got in past few weeks to my ideas around change. Here is some of what I have suggested

It seems that there is lot of resistance to the fundamental idea that when it comes to change we need to treat employees as customers.  The resistance stems from 3 central themes

  • Change is not a transaction
  • Employees have accountability and ownership whereas customers don’t
  • Employees have chosen to work for an organisations so they have to get on with it

All these have some basis. Employees do indeed have defined role and responsibilities. Organisations expect employees to act in the best interest of the organisation and in line with the long-term strategy. It is absolutely true that employees have chosen to work for the organisation. Change is actually not optional when it comes to employees. Taking that thought further, if something is not optional then how can it ever be a transaction?

On the face of it, all these seem reasonable . Let’s dig a bit.

If you really think of it, change is a transaction. Employees are giving their time/ effort to adopt the change and expect benefits in exchange. Organisations hope that those expected benefits are in line with the organisational benefits but there is no guarantee of that. The other aspect is the opportunity cost. Employees can dedicate the same time/ effort into something that will help them  impact ‘here and now’ as opposed to the proposed change.  Whichever way you look at it, you cannot ignore the transactional aspect of change.

Employees don’t really have option when it comes to change but they can for sure decide how quickly to adopt the change or how effectively to adopt the change. This is where most change projects fail. Every change management approach suggests that organisations need to create a sense of urgency. That cannot be created unless the organisation has ‘buy-in’ from the employees. For all the talk of change not being optional, it seems that change still have to be bought by the employees. If employees have to buy the change then they surely need to be treated as customers.

After reading this, you might think that the worst case scenario (for the organisation), is that employees (as customers) might just choose another organisations ( as a product or service). Trust me that is not the worse case scenario. The worse case scenario is that they decide to continue to with the organisation, pretend to buy into the change but never actually do. As any marketer will tell you , it’s never fun to have disgruntled customers !!