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Firm and Workflow Management

Why is change so hard?

Christie Johnston  

Christie Johnston  

Change itself isn’t painful, but resistance to change is another story. Is it possible to minimize the pain of change situations?

“Change is never painful. Only the resistance to change is painful.” While there’s some question as to who actually said this (it was attributed to Buddha, but that claim has been debunked), there’s no question that the resistance to change is a real issue.

Change itself may not hurt, but since the resistance to change is inherently human, we need to acknowledge and plan for ways to address change — especially when it comes to the people part of change. How do you mitigate their concerns without dismissing them? This is a key issue, since people react differently depending on how they perceive the change affects them.

Let’s use the example of upgrading software in an office. Naturally, the office staff interacts with the software in different ways, and with different purposes in mind.

Some will see the upgrade as an opportunity to accomplish a goal that couldn’t be met with the old software. Others will see the upgraded software as a threat. After all, they were the experts on the old version, and a key resource for questions. Now, they fear their value to the organization will be diminished, since they’ll be on the same level as everyone else with the new version of the software. Both are valid reactions, and there are no doubt more variations of reactions to account for as well.

In this example, change for the first group isn’t hard. They’re looking forward to it, and are ready to take on the work needed so they can reach their goal. The second group is more likely to resist change, pointing out everything they don’t like about the new version, and making themselves — and those around them — unhappy.

So what can we do to minimize the resistance to change in our offices? I would focus on the following three areas.

  1. Plan change in smaller pieces when possible. We don’t often acknowledge this, but change happens every day — and we adjust without issues. We all learn and make changes as we go, incorporating small changes into our processes. If you look back over the past year, you may find there are significant changes in how you work now vs. how you worked a year ago.Now, let’s take that perspective to our software updates example. If you stayed up to date as incremental upgrades were released, then those new features are manageable. However, if you haven’t updated for a year and have to do all the updates at once, the same changes can seem overwhelming. We see this often in cloud software, where the ease of release without installation allows for more small enhancements released more often, which can then improve your firm processes gradually throughout the year. Always be ready to think about how you can incorporate your changes over time.
  2. Over-communicate when changes happen. The more information made available to staff explaining what the change is and what the benefits are to the business, the less resistance you’ll encounter. If your staff knows the change will benefit the business — and therefore benefit them and their job security — they’ll be more willing to accept the change. So it’s critical that everyone in the business understands how they’ll benefit from the change.
  3. Find the resisters. Identify those you feel will be most affected by the change or who will be the most vocal, and meet with them before the change occurs. If you can address their concerns and turn them into champions, your change will be more successful. If they remain resistant to change it may be time to consider whether they still have a place in your organization, as their presence could be toxic to the rest of your staff.

The bottom line? Change seems to happen much faster these days. I’d argue that the pace of change has always been fast, but the changes are bigger now. If we don’t keep up with changes as they come, it will be hard — if not impossible — to catch up in the future.

The good news is that help is available to build a plan for change that’s right for your firm. There are many organizations, including Thomson Reuters, that are ready to partner with you and help you traverse changes smoothly.

More information?

If you’d like to learn more about the resources Thomson Reuters offers, we invite you to visit our Onvio Firm Management and Business Optimization Consulting pages.

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